Honolulu Harbor molasses spill, one year later

Honolulu Harbor


It’s been nearly a year since what’s been called the worst environmental disaster in state history and still there’s no end in sight as the state continues its investigation.

In September 2013, more than 233,000 gallons of molasses spilled into Honolulu Harbor. The leak was traced to a broken pipe that leads from the shore to a Matson ship.

Fish, coral and other marine life suffocated from the lack of oxygen in the water.

On Thursday, KHON2 found signs of life making a comeback at Honolulu Harbor. With the help of an underwater camera, we came across a school of sardines close to shore.

There was also a man with a rod and reel, fishing in a place that was once a dead zone.

Eddie Perreira, who has fished for close to 30 years, keeps a boat at Keehi Lagoon. He remembers the day when disaster struck.

“(It) kinda looked eerie looking,” said Perreira when he saw the molasses spill spreading out on the water. “Maybe three or four hours later, when I saw the news, I found out there had been a molasses spill.”

He added “there were lots of dead fish on the sand, lots of them. Plugs up the gills and stuff, they cannot breathe.”

Twenty-six-thousand fish and marine life died from suffocation because molasses, a sugary substance, spilled into the harbor and cut off the oxygen in the water.

While Matson has offered to pay for the cleanup, it remains to be seen who will be held liable for any state or federal laws that may have been violated.

KHON2 called the state agencies looking into the spill, including the departments of land and natural resources, health and transportation. We were eventually referred to the state Attorney General’s office because it’s a legal matter.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General would only tell KHON2 that the office “and Matson have been and continue to work together to try and resolve the matters arising out of the molasses spill.”

The local U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also not commenting until after its investigation is completed.

The Sierra Club has also tried to get answers from the state.

“They’ve really just given us minimal information,” said Leilei Shih, chair of conservation for the Sierra Club – Oahu. “Sierra Club would like to speak further to the issue and work further on the issue, but we need to do that on updated information, and there just isn’t any.”

The Sierra Club launched an online petition, directed at state lawmakers and the governor. So far, it has collected 2,000 signatures.

Perreira also wants to know who will answer to the disaster. “Hopefully, like I said, somebody pays for it,” said Perreira. “Like anyone else, you do something wrong, you got to pay for it.”

As for shipments of molasses, Alexander & Baldwin, which owns the only commercial sugar operation in the state, says its company, Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar on Maui, ships directly from Kahului to Stockton, Calif.

Last year, HC&S shipped out 54,800 tons of molasses to California.

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