Thursday, April 22, 1999

Shipwreck removal
may cost $1 million

By Anthony Sommer


LIHUE -- State officials have put the cost of removing the wreckage of the grounded fishing vessel Van Loi from Kapaa reef at somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million, depending on which of several methods is used.

The state attorney general's office was expected to place a lien today on the federal fishing permit held by the Van Loi's owners, said Vaughn Tyndzik, Kauai manager for the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.

And the state hopes to find out tomorrow how much of a $200,000 insurance policy the Van Loi's owners are willing to pledge toward cleanup costs.

"We hope it will at least be enough to cover the cost of removing the most immediate danger," Tyndzik told the Kauai County Council yesterday.

"There are two drums, each containing 40 miles of monofilament fishing line and thousands of hooks on leaders that pose a threat to seals and turtles."

Tyndzik said neither the Van Loi Corp. nor its president, Vincent Nguyen, have responded to demands that the company clean up the wreckage.

The 95-foot vessel was blown onto the reef April 10 after going aground farther north on Kauai in the dark, trying to head back to the open sea and then losing power when the engine room flooded. All six crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard.

Tyndzik said it remains a mystery why the boat was so close to Kauai's east shore. He said satellite navigation data recovered from the vessel showed it headed from its home port on Oahu directly to the northeast corner of Kauai on its way to fishing grounds off the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

"I find it unusual that they would take the windward side of the island, especially with such high winds and rough seas," Tyndzik said.

He noted that the Van Loi did not have an anchor and its crew would have been powerless to stop it from hitting the reef once the engine room flooded.

He said no one spotted the Van Loi in the act of fishing off Kauai, which would have violated a 50-mile limit in the boat's permit.

But there has been speculation by state and federal officials that the Van Loi may have been after yellow fin tuna, which were running off the northeast corner of Kauai early this month.

The report of an investigation being conducted by the Coast Guard is still several weeks away.

Placing a lien on the Van Loi's permit could have the effect of shutting down four or five fishing boats until the Van Loi's owner pays for the cleanup.

The permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service for fishing off the Northwest Hawaiian Islands are issued to a person rather than a boat. The same permit can cover several fishing boats from different companies as long as no more than one is fishing at any one time, Tyndzik said.

The relationship is not clearly defined, but Nguyen appears to be part of a consortium of Vietnamese families that owns and operates about 50 long-line fishing boats operating out of Oahu, Tyndzik said. All the vessels are converted shrimp boats brought to Hawaii from the Gulf of Mexico.

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