Matson takes KHON2 to the spill impact zone

KHON2 is learning more about the molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor, five days after it happened.

Water samples are in, confirming the dire conditions for ocean life still trying to live in the contaminated water.

Matson answered more questions about the 233,000 gallon spill itself. Exactly when it happened, when they first knew something was wrong, and when they found the leaky pipe.

All week KHON2 has been reporting that the spill happened on Monday morning, but we found out today, that’s when it was first reported to Matson authorities.

The actual molasses spill happened sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

“We will be going to Pier 53,” points out Chris Lee, Matson’s Incident Commander.

A team from Matson and the Department of Health took KHON2 to the spill site by boat, answering more of the questions we’ve had all week.

“We have one ship called the ‘Maui’, came in last Saturday and arrived somewhere around 6 p.m. at night and we load molasses pretty much on arrival,” explains Lee.

Little did they know, that night, while molasses was pumping from these storage containers to the ship – it began seeping into Honolulu Harbor, poisoning marine life.

“It’s underneath the pier, so it’s not like you could physically see molasses coming out of anything,” explains Lee.

Here’s the timeline of events:

After the pumping began Saturday night, it was completed by 10 a.m. Sunday, with no indications of a problem.

It wasn’t until 24 hours later, that Matson started getting calls of an unusual substance in the harbor.

“We called our environmental response contractors out and they swam under the pier, they looked at the riser, they looked at the piping,” explains Lee.

Another 24 hours had passed before the team of divers were able to locate the leak.

Tuesday morning is when they found the leak from an old pipe that hadn’t been used for more than 20 years. A pipe they didn’t even have record of.

“They ended up swimming under the Horizon pier, that’s where they found the pipe underneath the pier, that had a hole in it and you could tell there was molasses in it,” describes Lee.

“So you’re saying its under Horizons property?” KHON2 asked.

“Well it’s all state property, we pay Wharfage to operate on the state piers. But this is the area where Horizon runs their operation,” Lee said.

But since Matson was pumping the molasses, they are assuming full responsibility.

The state DOT harbors division is also scrambling.

“There are people that are working on the state at that, figuring out who installed that and who owns that,” says Lee.

Bringing us back to the question we’ve been asking all week. When’s the last time this pipeline was inspected and why doesn’t the state keep records of the inspections?

“Molasses is an unregulated product, it’s not a regulated hazardous material, not a regulated pipeline such as the oil pipelines here,” says Lee.

Because health officials say this molasses spill did more damage to the environment than an oil spill of the same size could have done, molasses may soon be added to that list of regulated substances.

“Clearly the entire emergency response of the state, federal government, will be looking at this, learning lessons, making recommendations of any kind of regulatory or emergency response additions,” says Gary Gill, with the state Department of Health, who is heading to DC tonight to meet with congressionals and others to advocate for that change.

Matson is now in the process of permanently plugging that leaky pipeline that led to this disaster.

The state’s molasses exports have come to a halt until further notice.

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