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Video: Wrecked Yacht Founders Off Maui After Successful Refloat

Yacht Nakoa turns seaward as tug Mary Katherine takes up slack on the towline (DLNR)
Yacht Nakoa turns seaward as tug Mary Katherine takes up slack on the towline (DLNR)

Published Mar 6, 2023 3:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Sunday, the luxury yacht that ran aground and spilled fuel in a scenic protected bay on Maui was refloated and towed off. While salvors initially planned to deliver it to a pier in Honolulu, the vessel foundered and sank during the tow. 

On February 20, the 94-foot yacht Nakoa grounded on the north side of Maui's Honolua Bay, a state-protected marine sanctuary.The owner told local media that the yacht's mooring line parted overnight in a "freak accident," resulting in the boat drifting ashore. 

The yacht released diesel into the water when the bilge pumps activated, and the owner notified state and federal authorities that he was unable to pay for defueling.  The U.S. Coast Guard federalized the pollution response effort and hired in a remediation contractor. Over the course of the week, the pollution-response team removed nearly 500 gallons of petroleum from the vessel by helicopter. Once this was completed, the Coast Guard turned the response over to the state of Hawaii for wreck removal. 

Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) hired in local salvor Visionary Marine to take on the task. The first two attempts to pull the Nakoa off the beach were not successful. The initial attempt rotated the vessel towards seaward and shifted it about 10-20 feet down the reef; during the second attempt, the tow rig broke, forcing the salvage crew to abandon the effort and return to Honolulu for new gear. 

Over the weekend, salvors re-rigged the tow using heavy mooring lines around the stern and through the vessel's interior. One appeared to penetrate through an open porthole amidships, several feet above the waterline. Straps, shackles and other rigging over the weather deck kept the lines aligned fore and aft. To reduce snagging on the reef, the crew cut off appendages at the yacht's stern with a cutting torch. 

On Sunday afternoon, the tug Mary Catherine took up the slack and pulled the Nakoa off the beach in less than a minute. However, it was quickly apparent that the yacht's condition was compromised. Nakoa immediately took on a starboard list, and she settled lower in the water as the tow proceeded off the coastline. Ultimately, the salvage crew decided to let her go, and she sank in about 800 feet of water. 

Nakoa had already been defueled and thoroughly decontaminated before the salvage attempt. The environmental impact of the sinking has not yet been assessed. 

"I’m beyond words," said DLNR Chair Dawn Chang, speaking to Maui Now. "I extended our appreciation to [Visionary Marine] for doing a tough, thankless job when others in the industry were questioning the wisdom of taking it on."

The state of Hawaii plans to charge the owner of the Nakoa for the cost of the wreck removal and environmental damage to the reef, in addition to any applicable fines. The initial estimated charge was in the range of $470,000.