Molasses spill timeline: Dead fish, brown water and confusion

Emergency responders go to wrong pier

Published  6:39 PM HST Sep 25, 2013
Pier spreadsheet
HONOLULU -

KITV obtained the state's harbor logs and the Coast Guard’s account of that first call signaling that something was not right in our waters.

The first sign that anything was wrong came from stevedores reporting for work at 7 a.m. on Monday, according to Horizon Lines.

They alerted their supervisor who, in turn, called the Coast Guard.     

But two hours after that initial red flag, the caller told KITV that he got pretty concerned when no one showed up at Pier 51.

It turns out they went to the wrong pier.

The Coast Guard timeline points to the first call about brown water at 7:45 a.m. Monday.

At 8:00 a.m., it notifies the state harbor master.

At 8:02 a.m., it notifies state health officials.

At 8:15 a.m., the Coast Guard said it arrives at the spill.

Aerial photos of molasses spill
1 of 11
Hawai'i State Dept of Health

When all is said and done about the molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor, who will pay for the restoration of damaged coral?

Previous
Next

Click here to see more pictures of the molasses spill.

State harbor logs show that at about 8 a.m., the Coast Guard reports dead fish and brown water at Pier 41 and 42 area.

Two hours later, the Horizon Lines employee gets worried.

He told KITV he wondered why no one has shown up.  So, he calls the state harbor master's office.

Finally, the harbor police head to the right pier -- Pier 51-B.

State Harbors points out that Pier 41 is located across the channel near the Kapalama Stream which often discharges brown water after a heavy rain.

But the harbors administrator didn't recall it raining that day.

And all afternoon -- the calls come in -- possible sewer spill at Pier 36; brown water at Pier 28.

Finally at 2:25 p.m., seven-and-a-half hours after the first brown waters were sighted, there is this entry in the harbor master’s log:  "Someone from Matson calls to say there is a smell of molasses coming from pier 52 and he is wondering if it was related to the brown water in the harbor."

The EPA, which has launched a probe into possible violations of the Clean Water Act  offered this explanation, which officials have repeated from day one. What made responding to this emergency challenging is that molasses is not a regulated substance, so there is no real response plan.

A snapshot of just the first day -- a small piece of the puzzle, but a revealing one.

"If it was an oil spill you'd have a different mechanism of notification you would have an immediate notification to a response center which would push the message out to all the different agencies. With a molasses spill it’s kind of a grey area," said EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi

But the timelines certainly raise questions about whether the response could have been more timely, and the molasses spill could have been curtailed instead of pouring out and killing so many fish.

That leak wasn’t plugged until Tuesday morning.

Do you want to print this page now?