State officials say they will “aggressively pursue” recouping the nearly $500,000 cost of removing the vessel and any damage to the reef.

The 120-ton yacht that ran aground two weeks ago has finally been hauled away from the rocky shoreline at Honolua Bay. 

Maui County locator map

After being freed Sunday afternoon, the yacht began to take on water while being hauled toward Honolulu, according to a state news release.

In the channel between Maui and Molokai, the salvaging crew decided to scuttle the ship — in other words, deliberately allow it to sink to the bottom of the ocean, about 800 feet below. 

The 120-ton Nakoa sank as it was being hauled away. (Courtesy: DLNR/2023)

“I’ve been feeling like I had 120 tons on my mind all these weeks and holding my breath,” Maui County Council member Tamara Paltin said in a video statement for the Save Honolua Coalition. “Once it got off … it was like I could breathe again, like the whole valley could breathe again.”

The 94-foot vessel operated by Noelani Yacht Charters ran aground in Honolua Bay on Feb. 20. By the next day, the hull had been punctured, and diesel fuel spilled into the water leading into one of Maui’s most beloved marine sanctuaries.

Because of its sheer size and the complexities that would come with its removal, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources hired a contractor for $460,000 to try to haul the yacht away. A salvage ship operated by Visionary Marine teamed up with a tractor tug operated by Sause Brothers.

Sunday’s success in freeing the ship came after a number of unsuccessful attempts in less than ideal weather conditions over the last week and a half. 

Crews previously had removed all the fuel and other hazardous materials on board, according to DLNR.

“I’m beyond words,” DLNR Chair Dawn Chang said in a statement. “I extended our appreciation to (the owner of Visionary Marine) and his crew for doing a tough, thankless job when others in the industry were questioning the wisdom of taking it on.” 

Removing the yacht was extremely difficult because of its size and how it got stuck in the rocky coastline. (Courtesy: DLNR/2023)

Chang said the state will “aggressively pursue” recouping the cash for removal from the yacht’s owner, in addition to whatever it costs to repair damage to coral reefs and live rock in Honolua Bay. A team will return to Honolua Bay this week to assess the harm.

In an interview last week with Civil Beat, Jim Jones, the owner of Noelani Yacht Charters, said he wanted to make things right and wouldn’t leave DLNR with the bill.

Now that the yacht is gone, Maui residents say it’s time to work with state officials and community members to make changes to better protect Honolua Bay.

“We’re really hopeful for moving forward now with the new leadership of the DLNR,” John Carty, vice president of the Save Honolua Coalition, said in a video statement. “They really are interested in working with the community to make sure that nothing like this happens again.”

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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