The lawsuit accuses Jim Jones of taking the Nakoa on a personal outing that violated the sales agreement.

The investors behind the 120-ton, 94-foot luxury yacht that ran aground in Honolua Bay are suing Noelani Yacht Charters, the company’s owner and the captain on the day of the wreck for more than $2 million. 

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In a lawsuit filed Monday, attorneys for Kevin and Kimberly Albert of New Mexico, who provided the financing for the Nakoa, accused Jim Jones and his wife of taking the yacht on a personal trip to Honolua Bay without permission, which they said violated their sales agreement.

The lawsuit lays out the events that occurred in the days and hours before the Nakoa crashed into the reef at Honolua Bay, where it ended up spilling fuel in the waters leading to one of Maui’s most pristine marine sanctuaries. After two weeks stuck on the rocky shoreline, the yacht was hauled off on March 5 and sank in 800 feet on water while being towed toward Oahu.

Jones also used an “unapproved and unqualified captain” to operate the yacht, who prior to the holiday weekend outing, had only captained Jones’ Oahu-based 75-foot yacht, the Noelani, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks the court to award the Alberts damages including at least $1.45 million for the loss of the Nakoa, a minimum of $500,000 for the work to haul it off the reef, at least $500,000 to pay for environmental destruction, a lien on the Noelani, plus attorneys fees and other damages that arise.

A luxury yacht ran aground on Maui on Feb. 20. (Courtesy: DLNR/2023)
The investors behind a luxury yacht that ran aground on Maui on Feb. 20 are suing for damages. (Courtesy: DLNR/2023)

“(Noelani) Yacht Charters’ and Jones’s conduct with respect to the grounding was grossly negligent, willful and demonstrated a wanton disregard for the consequences of their actions,” the lawsuit said.

Jones, the owner of Noelani Yacht Charters, did not respond to an email or phone call requesting comment. Monday’s lawsuit is the latest in a string of cases filed against Jones and his businesses in recent years.

Jones pledged to repay all costs that arose from the wreck and told Civil Beat he planned to continue running charters on his Oahu-based yacht to help him repay the debts.

But Noelani Yacht Charters’ website says the company is no longer in business. Jones’ commercial permit that allowed him to run charters on the Noelani expired in February, and because he owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state, he can’t renew his permit, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources. 

Under the agency’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation rules, anyone who wants to do business in Hawaii waters must have a commercial permit. The Nakoa, which was purchased by Jones in December to run charters around Maui, didn’t have one

The lawsuit says Jones had agreed to purchase the Nakoa from the Alberts, which owned the vessel through a trust. The pricetag was $1.45 million and scheduled to be paid off over 15 years. The Alberts’ attorney did not respond to a call seeking comment. 

Noelani Yacht Charters targets the ultrawealthy with trips starting at just under $10,000. (Screenshot/Noelani Yacht Charters/2023)

The Dec. 29 purchase agreement laid out all of the requirements that Jones and Noelani Yacht Charters needed to meet to manage and eventually take full ownership of the yacht. Among the conditions mentioned: that the charter company needed to “use its best efforts to manage and operate the vessel in accordance with best yacht management practices;” that the seller wouldn’t be held liable for things like injuries, fines, damages and legal challenges; and that, in the event the yacht was lost or damaged, the buyer would “bear all risk.” 

Meanwhile, under the terms of the yacht’s insurance policy, the Nakoa was supposed to be crewed by an approved licensed captain, first mate and crew member, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit says the captain who was approved and listed on the yacht’s insurance policy was initially on board on Feb. 17 when Jones, his wife and children arrived in West Maui, along with another captain, first mate and crew member for the weekend trip. Upon Jones’ direction, the approved captain left the yacht; he was scheduled to return Feb. 20 to lead a charter to Lanai. 

A luxury yacht ran aground on Maui on Feb. 20. (Courtesy: DLNR/2023)
The Nakoa was hauled off the rocky shoreline on March 5 and sank in 800 feet on water while being towed toward Oahu. (Courtesy: DLNR/2023)

Instead, the new captain took charge, according to the lawsuit. At that point, that captain had previously operated at the helm of the Noelani but hadn’t yet captained the Nakoa.

Over the course of the weekend, the lawsuit says Jones and his family were shuttled from Kaanapali to Kapalua to Honolua. On Feb. 18 and 19, the yacht was moored overnight at Honolua Bay — on a day-use mooring that’s typically limited to 2.5 hours and where overnight use is explicitly prohibited. 

On the night leading up to the grounding, the lawsuit says that neither the captain nor Jones designated someone to keep watch on deck to ensure the yacht stayed in place —  a standard maritime safety practice. Instead, Jones and his crew relied on a digital anchor alarm, according to the lawsuit.

Around 5:20 a.m. on Feb. 20, Jones heard the alarm go off, the lawsuit said. Meanwhile, the captain realized the yacht had broken free from the mooring and was drifting. At that point, the engines weren’t on.  

“After getting the engines started and the propulsion and steering engaged, (the captain), Jones and the vessel’s crew undertook a series of maneuvers but ultimately ran aground in Honolua Bay,” the lawsuit says. 

In the following weeks, state officials would learn that the yacht caused “significant damage” to the marine habitat, wreaking havoc on the corals and live rock covering more than 19,000 square feet, according to DLNR.

The state agency also hired a contractor for at least $460,000 to remove the yacht. It’s unclear if the yacht’s insurance policy will cover the removal, or if Jones or the Alberts will be footing the bill to pay the state back.

The agency is planning to present a final report on the extent of the damage to the Board of Land and Natural Resources, along with recommended fines and penalties, at some point in the future. 

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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