11 rescued after boat sinks off Kalaeloa, lifeguards also busy

(Photo: USGS/Lt. Kevin Cooper)

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued nearly a dozen people Thursday afternoon in waters off West Oahu.

Officials said 11 people abandoned ship after their 95-foot towing vessel, Nalani, began to sink about two miles offshore of Kalaeloa.

Watchstanders at the Coast Guard Sector Honolulu command center received a call at 3:13 p.m. from the pilot: “Mayday, mayday, mayday… Approximately two miles outside Barbers Point Harbor on the tug Nalani. Vessel appears to be starting to sink.”

The Coast Guard Cutter Kittiwake, an 87-foot coastal patrol boat homeported in Honolulu, launched to the scene along with a response boat and MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew.

Meanwhile, Sector Honolulu sent out an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast to Mariners notifying vessels in the area of the situation, eliciting the response of the towing vessel Tiger 7 and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration patrol boat.

“Once we got around the corner of Barbers Point, it was about 15-foot surf right off the beach,” said Brian Golden with the U.S. Coast Guard. “We were a little worried about that, got along a route, got around the corner. We saw the debris field and smelled diesel fuel and we saw the good Samaritan boats that responded.”

The crew of the NOAA vessel safely rescued nine crew members and the Tiger 7 crew rescued two. No injuries were reported.

The Coast Guard response boat arrived on scene shortly after the rescue, transferred all 11 survivors aboard and transported them to Honolulu. All 11 survivors were wearing life jackets.

The Coast Guard is conducting an investigation into the sinking and has begun interviews with the crew. The cause of the sinking is unknown and is under investigation.

According to the Coast Guard, Nalani was a Panamanian-flagged tugboat with a crew consisting of 11 Panamanians and one Hawaii resident who served as navigator.

“A lot of the personnel on board were concerned with their luggage,” Golden said. “They pretty much had all their life positions on the boat that went down. We went back and tried to find anything that we could get, was floating, and address all the medical conditions that we could.”

The Nalani sank in approximately 2,200 feet of water and was carrying an estimated 75,000 gallons of diesel fuel. An oil sheen was observed by Coast Guard responders before nightfall.

Additional over flights are planned for Friday morning and shoreline assessment teams will be out to evaluate shorelines for impact. A unified command will be established Friday to coordinate response efforts.

Identified areas of potential impact are from Barbers Point, north to Nanakuli.

The public should report any observable shoreline impact to the Coast Guard Sector Honolulu Command Center at (808) 842-2600.

Meanwhile, lifeguards were also busy with the high surf.

According to Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services, 84 rescues and 378 preventative actions were reported in Waikiki. Lifeguards responded to broken surfboards and leashes as outer surf spots fired consistently with sets coming in one after another. There were no rescues and 83 preventative actions at Ala Moana.

There were only five rescues on the North Shore, but lifeguards reported 695 preventative actions. Surf reached up to 30-foot faces at Waimea Bay with larger sets on the outer reefs. Officials said about a dozen boards were broken at Waimea Bay and Pipeline.

Things were slightly calmer on the west shores, with 22 rescues and 140 preventative actions. On Oahu’s east shores, there were 19 rescues and 250 preventative actions.

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