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March 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Maui Dive Shop Must Pay $550,000 for Wrecking Reefs

from the March, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Maui Dive Shop, whose 32-foot snorkel boat sank off Molokini in 2006, was recently fined $550,000 for coral damage, the largest-ever penalty made by the state of Hawaii in a coral damage case. The state also suspended the companyís permit to conduct Molokini tours.

The trouble began when the crew struggled to secure the dual-engine vessel to one of 26 submerged moorings. The boatís port engine ground to a halt when a bow rope became entangled in the impeller, which draws water into the engine. It was the captainís first solo voyage after only three days of training, and neither he nor the crewman had good mechanical knowledge of the vessel. Efforts to loosen the rope opened the engine compartment to flooding, and within minutes the boat was listing and water pouring in over the rails.

Life preservers werenít distributed to the 15 passengers before the boat sank. Instead, the captain and crew member shoved boogie boards, ring buoys and other items that had floated to the surface toward passengers who were treading water. No one was injured. Investigators believe someone from the company put a hole in the hull without guidance or permission in order to bring it to rest on a coral bed. Salvage attempts further damaged the coral.

While Maui has lost 50 percent of its reefs in the last decade because of invasive algae, the nearby island crater of Molokini was considered one of its last healthy, pristine reefs. The sinking and salvage effort damaged an estimated 14,600 square feet of reef, crushing or damaging up to 1,500 coral colonies, which will take up to 80 years to recover.

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