Four days after a Matson pipeline broke spilling 233,000 gallons of thick, syrupy molasses into Honolulu Harbor and killing thousands of fish and other sea creatures, a Matson executive stood in front of the harbor perspiring heavily.

The sun was hot, but a mob of reporters also bombarded Vic Angoco, senior vice president for Matson’s Pacific operations, with questions. What caused the spill? What will keep it from happening again? Will the well-known shipping company ultimately pay for the damages?

It went a bit like this:

Is there a record of when the last time the pipeline was inspected?

Angoco: “I have not even looked.”

Do you know how old the molasses pipe is?

Angoco: “I don’t.”

Does Angoco know the last time the pipe was used? “I have no idea.”

Nor did he know, he said, if Matson was required to provide inspection reports to the state or how often the pipes were supposed to be inspected, and he didn’t want to get into details about who exactly inspects the pipeline.

Dead fish from the molasses spill.

In short, the Matson executive asserts that he doesn’t know the procedure for inspecting the company’s pipes, when the company last inspected them and whether the state has any oversight of their inspections — all questions aimed at answering whether the public should be concerned that another spill could happen.

Carolyn Sluyter, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, also had few answers to the questions reporters have been asking all week.

Asked if Matson is required to file inspection reports with DOT, she said, “I’m checking on that, but not to my knowledge at this point.”

She said it is “unclear” if Matson has to file a cleanup plan with the state in case of a molasses spill, but she didn’t think it was required.

Meanwhile, multiple investigations into the spill have begun. State agencies are looking into precisely what caused the pipe to rupture and whether Matson will be charged for the cleanup operation and violations of the Clean Water Act. Thousands of fish have been plucked out of the harbor that are either dead or distressed, and will undergo toxicology tests and autopsies to determine the cause of death. The coral will also be sampled.

The Legislature is expected to hold an investigative hearing on the spill later this month.

Gary Gill, deputy director for environmental health for the Department of Health, said that the state may consider options to increase oversight over harbor pipelines.

Matson ship off Honolulu Harbor.

“You can rest assured that we will have a full analysis of what happened, how it happened and the state and all agencies of the state will have a hand in recommending any new laws or regulations to the Legislature if they are necessary,” said Gill.

So far boat crews have plucked more than 2,000 fish out of the water in an attempt to keep sharks at bay and prevent the decaying fish from causing toxic algae blooms. The public is being warned not to touch the water or eat fish from the harbor or Keehi Lagoon, where the plume of molasses is spreading. The fish are believed to be but a small sampling of the dead marine life.

Angoco said he didn’t want to comment about potential company fines, but said that Matson is taking full responsibility.

“We have a responsibility. We are not going to run from that responsibility,” he said. “We will work through it with all the agencies until we are all happy that what has been done, what could be done, all has been done.”

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