Matson subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in probe of devastating molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor

Photo by Elizabeth Miles
MOLASSES KILL: Dead fish picked up on the beach at Ke’ehi Lagoon.
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Photo by Elizabeth Miles
MOLASSES KILL: Dead fish picked up on the beach at Ke’ehi Lagoon.

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN– HONOLULU – A federal grand jury has subpoenaed Matson Inc. seeking documents about the release of thousands of gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor.

The subpoena was revealed Thursday in a report obtained by Hawaii Reporter from the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission.


A month ago, Matson reportedly released more than 220,000 gallons of molasses into the harbor and neaby Ke’ehi Lagoon, killing 26,000 fish, swamping recreational swimmers and stalling fishermen and boating operations in the harbor.

Matson also has received written requests for information regarding the spill from the state Department of HealthOffice of Hawaiian Affairs, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Sierra Club-Hawaii Chapter deemed the spill among the worst environmental disasters in state history.

State and federal officials are investigating the leak to determine the extent of the damage. Divers took samples of coral, sand and mud from the ocean floor on Wednesday. This and earlier dives showed much of the reef in the area has died.

GOO: The molasses spill impacted sealife in Ke’ehi Lagoon, seen here, and Honolulu Harbor

On Sept. 20, the state Department of Health successfully restored pH level in the harbor and lagoon, and it was reopened to the public the following day.

Taxpayers have paid millions of dollars to clean up the spill and remove the dead fish, and they are now funding the investigation and monitoring by state and federal agencies.

Matson faces steep fines from federal and state agencies, and could be forced to pay part or all of the clean up costs. The company told the SEC it cannot tell shareholders yet how much that will be.

“Government agencies have not yet presented Matson with an accounting of any claims for costs, penalties or damages, and the Company has only received a limited number of third party claims.  As a result Matson is presently unable to estimate the liabilities it may incur related to the spill,” the report to the SEC said.

More than 1,500 Sierra Club members have written to Hawaii state lawmakers asking them to ensure Matson Inc. is held accountable for its actions.  Matson is Hawaii’s largest shipper of cargo container goods to the state, with about 85 percent of the market share.