Matson Navigation, the company responsible for spilling 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor in 2013, will pay a $15 million settlement agreement with the state, Hawaii officials announced Wednesday.

The 1,400-ton spill of thick, brown liquid from a Matson pipeline caused what has been described as the worst environmental disaster in Hawaii’s history, killing coral and more than 26,000 fish, crabs and other marine life.

The $15.4 million settlement is one of the largest payouts for an environmental violation in Hawaii’s history, Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin said.

The settlement also required Matson to shut down all molasses operations in the islands. The company had already suspended its molasses operations.

“It sends a message that Hawaii is going to take environmental crimes … very, very seriously,” Chin said.


Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin explaining the settlement agreement with Matson at a July 29 press conference.

Marina Riker/Civil Beat

The settlement was reached before the state filed a lawsuit, which could have taken eight to 12 years to resolve, Chin said.

It wouldn’t be in the state’s best interest to wait that long to rebuild the marine environment and repay government agencies, he said.

And, the fact that both the state – and Matson – knew about the leaking molasses pipeline for more than a year could have been a point in a lawsuit, Chin said.

The extensive damage to the coral reefs and ecosystem caused by the molasses spill was devastating enough for lawmakers to pass an emergency appropriation this past legislative session to make cover the costs of lotogation and make sure it was properly handled, according to a Senate press release.

“We are pleased that the settlement not only addresses past damages, but also covers long-term environmental damages,” Sen. J. Kalani English said in the press release.

A portion of the settlement – $5.9 million – will reimburse the state as well as start a marine nursery to regrow coral that was damaged and destroyed in the spill.

Part of the money will go to a trust fund, which will be divvied up between affected state agencies to cover clean-up and investigative costs.

In the last two years alone, the Attorney General’s office incurred about $2 million in legal and consultant fees, even though it never filed a lawsuit, Chin said.

Dead fish molasses spill

A dead fish from the molasses spill.

Nick Grube/Honolulu Civil Beat

Another $200,000 out of the state’s portion of the settlement will contribute to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Conservation Congress  in 2016, which will be held at the Honolulu Convention Center.

The remaining $9.5 million of the settlement will pay to close Matson’s molasses operations and remove molasses equipment at the Sand Island Terminal. It will also cover the cost to safely remove molasses from the equipment, and convert remaining parts of the pipeline for uses other than conveying fluids.

In a separate agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice last October, Matson paid $600,000 in restitution to the Waikiki Aquarium and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii to support environmental programs.

The shipping company might still face potential civil claims with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So far, some fish have returned to the area of the harbor, but some types of coral may not regrow in the area. Other types will take years, if not decades, to recover, according to the Attorney General’s office.

About the Author