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Global Diving to Remove Sunken Boats and Fire Debris in Lahaina

Burned debris and a line of lucky surviving boats at Lahaina's small boat harbor, Sept. 12 (State of Hawaii)
Burned debris and a line of lucky surviving boats at Lahaina's small boat harbor, Sept. 12 (State of Hawaii)

Published Sep 17, 2023 6:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard and its agency partners are moving ahead with a cleanup of the boat harbor at Lahaina, which was devastated by a raging wildfire on August 8. Most of the city was burned to the ground, and the harbor is filled with dozens of pieces of wreckage, the agency says. 

The U.S. Coast Guard led the initial water-side response to the fire, rescuing 17 people overnight August 8-9. The U.S. Navy contributed salvage divers for the search and recovery operation in the weeks that followed. The unified command for the response is responsible for coordinating the recovery for the harbor, and has identified no less than 78 different targets for sunken, derelict or displaced vessels and other marine debris left behind by the fire. Global Diving and Salvage has been contracted to conduct an assessment, mitigate pollution risk, and remove the debris from the water. 

Not all of the boats at the marina were destroyed by the fire. Last week, Maui County and the U.S. Coast Guard gave permission for 13 boat owners to return to Lahaina's harbor to visit their miraculously-intact vessels. 

“I would definitely call them the lucky thirteen. We’re still trying to analyze how that firestorm missed these boats. It’s just incredible," said boat owner Kelli Lundgren. “Aerial shots showed the harbor with smoke coming out over it, and there’s this line of white at this end of the harbor. I just couldn’t believe it. It was amazing.”

The fire hit Lahaina suddenly, driven by fierce winds generated by a distant hurricane, and residents had little warning as it ripped through the town. The death toll rose as high as 115, but has been recently revised downwards after DNA testing of the remains revealed some inconsistencies. 16 cases turned out to be nonhuman. The closest estimate now stands at 97 dead, out of which 74 have been identified. That is a painstaking task, according to local officials.  

“We’re even looking at surgical hardware, pacemakers, pacemaker serial numbers. We’re trying every single modality we have to make sure that we identify these people," county coroner Dr. Jeremy Stuelpnagel told the New York Times.