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The owner of the luxury yacht Formosa, which damaged hundreds of feet of coral in Kailua Bay, was ordered to pay a settlement of $100,000. While this is a
hefty fine, the damage done to the coral was extensive. Once the payment is made, the money will go into a trust fund which will be used for coral restoration in West Hawaii.
Photographs and video footage of the yacht’s anchor and chain lying on the coral surrounded by exposed coral skeleton indicates that the chain was dragged around the anchor, across the reef, damaging coral in its wake. An area of over 1,000 square meters was impacted. Sadly, some of this included fully protected corals and rocks and it will take years to recover.
According to a report made by the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), the yacht violated Hawaiian rules by damaging over 430 stony coral specimens and a large area of live rock. Some of the damaged corals include Porites lobata, Porites evermanni, Porites compressa, Porties rus, and Genus Montipora.
Repercussions and Restoration
Once the damage was noticed, the DAR contacted the Formosa’s crew and witnessed them moving the yacht to re-anchor it in deeper water, away from the reefs. The DAR report stated that the crew cooperated fully. Subsequently, the damage was surveyed, and attempts to mitigate it were made. Some of the damaged coral colonies were moved into more stable positions, and a follow-up diving expedition was conducted to ensure the coral fragments are placed correctly to allay the damage.
Initially, the DAR proposed a $158,523 fine, based on the extent of the damage. This fine was not pursued because of technicalities and legal issues. Maritime law is not exactly clear on who is responsible for the damage when it is done by a foreign vessel. The person navigating the yacht was not a citizen of Hawaii and was not familiar with the area. The Pacific Islands Pilot booklet does not mention coral and only shows sand at the bottom of Kailua Bay. The only mention of potential issues linked to anchoring is that it could be unsafe during certain weather conditions.
Another spoke in the wheel is that the Formosa is about to be sold. Even if DAR pursued the owners for the full fine, who is to say the next owner would be liable for the damage made by the yacht under the stewardship of the current owner. Because of these challenges, the board was urged to accept a settlement of $100,000.
A Slap on the Wrist, or a Hefty Fine?
Only one board member cast a ‘no’ vote and felt that the maximum fine should be pursued. This board member expressed that the proposed fine was a full $58,000 lower than what was truly due – he felt this was a ‘slap on the wrist’ for the yacht owner, who charters the vessel for as much as $470,000 a week. Since DAR may not be able to substantiate all their findings, they believe the best course of action is to accept the settlement.
Sadly, this is not the first incident of its kind and will not be the last. And, although the fine upheld is not as much as what it could be, it will help conservation efforts and the unfortunate incident will help raise awareness of the importance of taking care of our coral reefs.