Hawaii health officials have warned swimmers and surfers to stay out of the waters near Honolulu harbour after a leak of 1,400 tons of molasses killed hundreds of fish, potentially attracting sharks.
The Hawaii department of health deployed three boats to remove the dead fish, and they were expected to remove thousands more in the coming weeks, said a spokeswoman, Janice Okubo.
A brown plume of sweet, sticky liquid was spotted seeping into Honolulu harbour and Keehi lagoon on Monday after a leak was discovered in a pipeline used to load the molasses on to ships operated by Matson Navigation Company, the health department said. Matson Navigation is a subsidiary of Matson Inc, which has provided Pacific-wide shipping services since 1882.
Roger Smith, a dive shop owner who went under water on Wednesday to survey the damage, said it was unlike anything he had seen in 37 years of diving, with brown-tinted water and a layer of molasses coating the sea floor.
"Everything that was underwater suffocated," Smith said. "Everything climbed out of its hole and the whole bottom was covered with fish, crabs, lobsters, worms, sea fans – anything that was down there was dead."
The health department said in a statement that while molasses was not directly harmful to humans, it was polluting the water, causing fish to die, and could lead to an increase in predator species such as sharks, barracuda and eels. Molasses is a byproduct of the refining of sugar cane.
Okubo said crews were monitoring molasses levels in the waters to help predict the spread and overall impact of the 223,000-gallon spill.
Matson acknowledged in a statement that the spill was caused by a faulty pipe, which it said had been fixed. It said the sugar product would dissipate on its own.
The company said it regretted the incident and was working with authorities to take steps to ensure it did not happen again.
"We take our role as an environmental steward very seriously," the statement said. "We have a long history in Honolulu harbour and can assure all involved that this is a rare incident."
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