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On Maui, a private luxury yacht spilled diesel into a protected marine sanctuary.

According to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, a private luxury yacht that ran aground on rocks and reef Monday morning at Honolua Bay – a popular surfing spot and protected marine sanctuary in west Maui – leaked fuel into the ocean.

According to the DLNR, a sheen of fuel was visible on the water on Tuesday morning, and “you could still smell fuel in the air” in the afternoon.

On Tuesday morning, Maui County officials issued an emergency permit to intervene “in response to the increasing risk of damage to the reef and ecosystem” that the stuck yacht poses. “The longer the vessel stays in the sensitive area, the greater the risk of damage,” Mayor Richard Bissen, Jr. said in a statement.

A team from the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources conducted an initial underwater assessment of any damage to coral reefs and live rocks around the boat, which are protected by state law, and discovered about 30 to be damaged. Although more investigation is needed, the boat owner could face “significant penalties.”

The yacht will most likely be freed from the reef in a few days, according to DLNR officials. The yacht was federalized by the US Coast Guard, which means that all fuel, batteries, and other pollutants on board must be removed first.

Noelani Yacht Charters, a Maui-based company owned by Jim Jones, owns the 94-foot vessel. He told Hawaii News Now that he and his family had been “anchored offshore for the past two days.” Jones stated early Monday morning that a mooring line had broken in “a freak accident.”

Residents and advocates were outraged after seeing images and videos of the stranded yacht on social media.

“The community expects this company to be held completely accountable. That is completely unacceptable. For years, the Save Honolua Coalition has advocated for the state to regulate boat traffic in the bay. We hope that this tragic incident brings the issue to light. For the time being, we hope that DOCARE and the salvage company act quickly and effectively to limit the damage “The Save Honolua Coalition, a grassroots organisation dedicated to protecting the bay, issued a statement.

According to a press release issued by the Department of Land and Natural Resources on Tuesday morning, it is the owner’s responsibility to remove a private vessel “with the least amount of damage possible to reefs and marine environments.” The owner must submit a written salvage plan to the department for approval. A private contractor typically pulls the yacht out to sea via tugboat in these types of plans.

“He was never aware of a land-based approach and had no plans to pursue such an action,” Jones told DLNR.

“This vessel grounded just outside the Honolulu-Mokul’ia Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD), which has the highest level of resource protection available under state law,” said DLNR Chair Dawn Chang in a statement. “We are working closely with Maui County, the boat’s owner, the USCG, local legislators, and the salvage company to coordinate our efforts. We want to do everything we can to avoid further damage to the reefs in the MLCD or elsewhere in the bay.”

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