Wednesday, April 14, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Workers checked the grounded fishing vessel Van Loi yesterday
off Kapaa, Kauai. Most of the 16,000 gallons of diesel fuel
aboard has leaked out and dissipated, officials said yesterday.

Officials focus
on cleanup of
leaked fuel

Most of the diesel fuel aboard
a grounded fishing boat has leaked
out and is dissipating

By Mary Adamski


The federal effort to reduce hazards from the grounded fishing boat Van Loi is now concentrated on collecting oily debris from east Kauai beaches and finding about 1,000 hook-tipped fishing lines that pose a threat to sea creatures.

Removal of the 95-foot boat, aground on the Kapaa Reef since Saturday, is the responsibility of the owner, said Howard Gehring, administrator of the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. He said yesterday that he expects the wind- and wave-battered boat to be "in pieces" when it is finally removed.

It has already cost the Coast Guard $50,000 for the emergency response effort, which will end once the threat to the environment is controlled, said Capt. Frank Whipple, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Honolulu. The agency has contracted with Pacific Environmental Corp., which has crews at the site.

Officials decided yesterday that the bulk of the 16,000 gallons of diesel fuel aboard has leaked out gradually, diluted and dissipated in the churning surf. That plus the deteriorated condition of the wreck, which is seen to be tearing apart, led to a decision not to put team members aboard.

"The higher priority now is trying to get the material off the beaches that would be a hazard to the public," Whipple said. Crews are finding oily Styrofoam, boxes and pieces of wood.

State biologists have not seen any injury to fish, birds or animals so far, said Bill Devick, acting administrator of the state division of aquatic resources.

It may be months before the whole impact on the environment is seen, he said. "Fuel oil can be highly toxic to marine life, but it may not be evident for a long while."

Devick said he expects to have divers begin to assess damage to the reef from the grinding hull within the next week.

"Additional damage may be unavoidable with the cleanup and removal" of the wreck, Devick said.

Gehring said "The fact there was no loss of life is a tribute to the commercial fishing vessel safety program" through which the Coast Guard oversees how boats are equipped and crews are trained.

The boat is owned by Van Loi Corp. of Honolulu and operates from Kewalo Basin.

The boat is insured. The names of the owner and captain were not available, Whipple said.

Federal regulations do not require that the captain of a fishing boat of that size be licensed, the Coast Guard officer said.

It will be at least a month before the investigation is completed and it is determined whether there was negligence or fault that would lead to charges or sanctions, he said.

The volume of the fuel spill was greater than either of the two major spills in Hawaii waters last year.

A fishing boat lost more than half of its 11,000 gallons of diesel fuel when it ran aground in October on the reef in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

The other 1998 spill was the loss of nearly 5,000 gallons of crude oil from a ruptured hose off Barber's Point, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

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