Taxpayers on hook for Honolulu Harbor molasses clean up

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.

HONOLULU – It’s going to cost Hawaii taxpayers millions of dollars to clean up a molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor that killed thousands of fish.

Matson Navigation Co. allowed 233,000 gallons of molasses to leak into the ocean, causing environmental damage.


The state estimates it will cost millions of dollars for the clean up, and taxpayers are on the hook even though Matson’s parent company, Alexander & Baldwin, said it will pay fines and other costs associated with remediation and restoration.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii,  has promised Gov. Neil Abercrombie federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act funding to cover expenses related to the spill.

In addition, state and federal personnel from the Coast Guard’s Pacific Strike Team, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hawaii Department of Health, Department of Land and Natural Resources and Department of Transportation, have been working overtime. They’ve collected and counted dead fish.

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

They’ve also researched what can be done to flush out the molasses because, unlike oil, molasses sinks to the bottom and mixes quickly with the seawater.

They also are looking to repair damage to coral and other marine life.

“Each agency has brought in its most experienced staff from around the country and I am confident they will work together to develop appropriate solutions to the problem,” said incident commander Keith Kawaoka.

Matson transports more than 80 percent of goods to Hawaii BY cargo container ship. The company’s monopoly is protected by the 1920 federal Jones Act legislation, which requires cargo shipped between American ports must be transported by American-owned and manned ships. The molasses operation, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co, is also owned by Alexander & Baldwin.

While the president of the company assured the public that shipping rates will not increase to cover the cost of clean up and fines, there is little government oversight to ensure the company will be held to that promise.

U.S. Coast Guard photo
ON DUTY: Personnel from Coast Guard National Strike Force, EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and NOAA head to their first location to monitor depleted oxygen and pH levels in Honolulu Harbor.

The Surface Transportation Board has governed rates in the “domestic offshore” trades since 1995, and no rate is supposed to increase by more than 7.5 percent annually plus fuel surcharges. However, a Watchdog investigation showed there is only oversight by the federal board unless if a complaint is filed.

Although the state Department of Health ”dissolved oxygen and pH levels are returning to normal target levels in Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon,” the state laboratory director for the Department of Health State Lab Division predicted the situation in Honolulu Harbor could become even more dire.

Christian Wayland told Hawaii New Now it is possible there could be a large overgrowth of bacteria that will degrade the water quality and drive the dissolved oxygen down again, killing more marine life.

The sugary waters also are hurting business operations in the harbor for fishermen and boaters because they are afraid to start their engines without knowing what damage the molasses can do.






  1. I was born and raised in the islands, and saw all the environmental changes that affected the lifestyles of the 50's. Marine Life will always suffer mankind progress, and more alien materials will find it's way to our oceans. In my opinion, work with Matson and the State. Pool resources together and try to restore the marine life as best as possible. As for Businesses and related Damages. They have the ability to write such loses through their Business Licenses, or Income Taxes. Taxpayers pay it nonetheless. Thus, we shouldn't be giving them a double relief matching such loses as compensation, etc.. We all suffer loses when progress is involved.

    • Matson trying to pass this off already. "Matson is the only company in Hawaii that transports molasses in bulk. Since the spill, it has stopped — and would stay that way if Matson can’t prevent this from happening again….“If it’s not repairable, would we put a new line in place. And if that’s not feasible, keep open the possibility of discontinuing our molasses from Honolulu to the mainland,” Cox said."
      More at; Matson could permanently halt molasses shipments following spill

  2. […] Taxpayers on hook for Honolulu Harbor molasses clean upHawaii ReporterIn addition, state and federal personnel from the Coast Guard's Pacific Strike Team, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hawaii Department of Health, Department of Land and …Officials offer update on Honolulu molasses spillNews 12 Long IslandHawaii Molasses Spill Pipe Had Leak 1 Year Before, Matson KnewHuffington Postall 31 news articles […]

  3. I would think that matson navigation and/ or alexander & Baldwin has insurance for these types of incidences. and look at all these gov't. agencies bumping into each other to count dead fish.

  4. Without even thinking about it. How could DOT and Matson have a "attorney-client" relationship. Sounds like total BS to me…. Someone covering their ass.

  5. Not much can be done to physically remove or alter the molasses out of the harbor. A possible remediation alternative at this point is have those responsible dredge and clear the silts and debris of the canals and pipes feeding into the harbor. At least that will improve the water quality of water feeding into the harbor water and can help speed environmental recover.

  6. every time it rains in downtown Honolulu and the surrounding areas and higher elevation residential and open areas,all the run-off goes right into the harbor.just imagine all those gutters in china town getting washed into the harbor when it rains.i'm thinking that the run-off is more of a problem over time than this molasses spill.

  7. Why isn't Matson being held liable for paying for the damages they caused? PB & Exon paid, and so should they. Don't they carry Insurance? Are they paying someone off?.

Comments are closed.