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Barge loses 21 containers during transit to Hilo; 12 not recovered

Aug 26, 2020 04:53 PM
Toppled containers lean on the deck of the 340-foot Ho’omaka Hou in Hilo, Hawaii, on June 22.

Courtesy Kaiali’i Kahele/Young Brothers

Toppled containers lean on the deck of the 340-foot Ho’omaka Hou in Hilo, Hawaii, on June 22.

Twenty-one shipping containers fell overboard from a cargo barge en route to Hilo, Hawaii, and 12 sank and were not recovered.

Crew aboard the 3,900-hp tugboat Hoku Loa noticed toppled boxes and missing cargo from the 340-foot barge Ho’omaka Hou when the vessels reached Hilo early on June 22. 

“There were 49 containers that were affected by the incident. Not all of them went into the water,” said Coast Guard spokesman Matthew West in Honolulu, referring to 28 other containers that fell over but remained on the barge.  

West said the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident but have not determined the cause. 

Young Brothers, a Hawaii interisland transportation service regulated by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, operates both vessels. The company, a Foss Maritime subsidiary based in Honolulu, did not respond to an inquiry about the incident. West said the operator is conducting its own investigation to determine what happened.

Hoku Loa and Ho’omaka Hou were underway to Hilo from Young Brothers’ Honolulu cargo hub when the containers fell overboard before dawn. Crews reported the missing boxes at about 0430 after mooring in Hilo, the Coast Guard said. Authorities don’t know where the 12 missing containers sank. 

Twenty-one boxes fell from the barge while it was under tow from Honolulu by the tug Hoku Loa.

Courtesy Kaiali’i Kahele/Young Brothers

Weather conditions at the time were relatively calm near Hilo. East winds blew at about 12 mph, with isolated showers and 4-foot waves. The 24-hour transit from Honolulu, however, passes through the notoriously difficult Alenuihaha Channel. 

West said the Coast Guard investigation will look into conditions en route to determine when the cargo shifted and if any containers fell overboard before the approach to Hilo Harbor. 

The Coast Guard conducted an overflight on June 22 and discovered nine boxes drifting near Hilo. Eight were seen floating roughly 8 miles north of the port, while another was spotted inside Hilo Harbor. One of these containers later sank, and another washed up on a nearby beach. 

Cates Marine and American Marine, both based in Hawaii, assisted with salvage operations. Cates identified and retrieved the containers, while American Marine lifted them out of the water with a 250-ton crane, according to the Coast Guard. 

The service did not identify the cargo inside the 40-foot boxes, but it said none carried hazardous materials. Commercial and recreational traffic was not affected. The Coast Guard broadcast details about the incident and asked mariners to watch out for the missing containers.

Young Brothers carries much of the cargo that moves between Hawaii’s islands, including personal property and vehicles, construction materials and equipment, and agricultural products. It serves each island at least once a week, while the ports of Hilo, Kahului and Nawiliwili each have multiple weekly calls from Honolulu.

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