In a significant settlement announced by the Hawaii Attorney General's Office, Matson Navigation Company has agreed to pay the state $15.4 million for a September 2013 spill of molasses into Honolulu Harbor. Under terms of the settlement, Matson will pay through a combination of cash, restoration and other environmental programs. The spill, which discharged some 1,400 tons of molasses, negatively impacted dissolved oxygen and pH levels in the Harbor and surrounding areas, killing about 25,000 fish and other sea creatures, damaging sensitive coral reefs and disrupting Harbor operations. A copy of the AG's news release can be viewed here.
The spill originated from a pipeline that Matson Navigation and an affiliate, Matson Terminals, Inc., used to transfer bulk molasses to vessels at a neighboring berth. Matson allegedly was aware that the pipeline had been leaking molasses for some time before the spill occurred. Things got sticky for the Company when Company officials admitted to investigators that while it had plans to respond to spills of oil or other chemicals, it did not have a plan in place for a release of molasses. Despite not having a plan in place, Matson Navigation quickly accepted responsibility for the release and expended significant resources on the response.
Notably, the State conducted its own investigation to assess the environmental impact of the spill, and hired an outside law firm to pursue its damage claim against Matson Navigation. Concurrently, the federal government conducted both criminal and civil investigations. In January 2015, Matson Terminals pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of discharging a pollutant without a permit, and agreed to pay a $400,000 fine, plus restitution of $600,000 to parties injured when the release shut down the Harbor and disrupted the local economy. The $600,000 was originally characterized as a Community Service Payment but after the federal magistrate reviewing it raised concerns, the United States reclassified it as restitution. News of the federal criminal sentence and restitution order was released by the Justice Department in January and can be read here.
The federal government is reviewing the civil settlement between Matson Navigation and the State to determine whether it affects the federal government's ongoing civil investigation. In the meanwhile, faced with significant costs from the spill and to upgrade its molasses handling and transfer facilities, Matson agreed to discontinue all of its molasses operations in Hawaii.