HONOLULU, Sept 12 Health officials warned
swimmers, surfers and snorkelers in Hawaii to stay out of the
waters near Honolulu Harbor after a leak of 1,400 tons of
molasses killed hundreds of fish, potentially attracting sharks.
So many fish had died by Thursday that the Hawaii Department
of Health tripled cleanup crews to three boats, which removed
hundreds of fish and were expected to remove thousands more in
the coming weeks, said department spokeswoman Janice Okubo.
A brown plume of sweet, sticky liquid was spotted seeping
into Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon on Monday after a ship
hauling molasses to the U.S. West Coast pulled out to sea.
By Tuesday, a leak was discovered in a molasses pipeline
used to load the molasses onto ships operated by Matson
Navigation Co, the international ocean transport company, the
health department said. Matson Navigation Company is a
subsidiary of Matson Inc, which has provided
Pacific-wide shipping services since 1882.
Roger Smith, a dive shop owner who went underwater on
Wednesday to survey the damage, said it was unlike anything he
had seen in 37 years of diving, with brown-tinted water and a
layer of molasses coating the sea floor.
"Everything that was underwater suffocated," Smith said.
"Everything climbed out of its hole and the whole bottom was
covered with fish, crabs, lobsters, worms, sea fans - anything
that was down there was dead."
The health department said in a statement that while
molasses was not directly harmful to people, it was "polluting
the water, causing fish to die and could lead to an increase in
predator species such as sharks, barracuda and eels."
Okubo said crews were monitoring molasses levels in the
waters to help predict the spread and overall impact of the
223,000-gallon spill, which is roughly equivalent to one-third
of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Matson acknowledged in a statement that the spill was caused
by a faulty molasses-loading pipe, which it said had been fixed.
It said molasses was a sugar product "that will dissipate on its
Matson said it regretted the incident and was working with
authorities to take steps to ensure it did not happen again.
"We take our role as an environmental steward very
seriously," the statement said. "We have a long history in
Honolulu Harbor and can assure all involved that this is a rare
The health department said that "an unusual growth in marine
algae" and harmful bacteria was another environmental danger
posed by the spill. Molasses is a byproduct of the refining of
The department posted signs on beaches warning people to
stay out of the water and not to consume any dead fish found in
the area. The brown plume was expected to remain visible for
weeks while natural tides and currents slowly flush the area,
the health department said.
Tourism officials said they were monitoring the situation
but did not believe it would hurt Hawaii's primary source of
"At this time, we do not foresee any immediate impact on our
visitor industry," said Mike McCartney, president and chief
executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority in a statement.