Pricey fire boat sits idle for months, will be replaced

Moku Ahi sits idle at Pier 15.

A boat that’s supposed to be used to fight fires at Honolulu Harbor has been sitting idle for more than five months.

Moku Ahi has been at Pier 15 since last October, after a leak was discovered in the boat’s hull.

The boat is owned by the state, but operated and maintained by the city.

Randy Grune, Deputy Director with the State Department of Transportation Harbors Division estimates the state pays the city about $1.5 million a year to do so. “It varies a little bit from year to year,” he said.

Grune says that money primarily goes to pay for the firefighters salaries.

The boat was hauled out of the water in 2009 so that crews could do a thorough inspection. The total cost for that was around $850,000.

Honolulu firefighters are still responsible for maintaining the equipment on board Moku Ahi, even while the boat is out of service.

“Like every apparatus, the crew here spends a large part of their day making sure that all the equipment that’s still on board the boat is functional and that they know how to use it,” Honolulu Fire Dept. Capt. Terry Seelig said. “It’s not like they’re sitting around doing nothing.”

He says firefighters are assigned to Moku Ahi around the clock with four firefighters for each shift. That number hasn’t been reduced since the boat was deemed unsafe to use.

A maritime expert says a boat this age is nearing its service life.

“Any vessel that’s at 25 years of age is at a point where you decide whether or not you want to start throwing money at it, like you would a used car, or do you get a new boat and have many years of good service,” said Kim Beasley, general manager with the Clean Islands Council.

The state has decided replace Moku Ahi with a new boat.

“We have already made a decision to take the vessel out of service on June 30 of this year,” Grune said. “The fire department will no longer be manning and maintaining this vessel as of July 1st of this year. We’re hoping to work on a replacement as soon as possible, but I can’t tell you how long that will take.”

Officials couldn’t tell me exactly how many times the boat’s been used to put out fires at the harbor, but say in the past few years, it’s been less than one a year.

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