LIHU‘E — The state Department of Land and Natural Resources reached a tentative settlement with the sellers of a 94-luxury yacht that grounded near a Maui marine sanctuary in February, but the yacht’s buyer and operator may still face further fines for damages.
The incident first occurred in the morning of February 20, after Jim Jones, the owner of Noelani Yacht Charters, landed the 120-ton yacht, named the Nakoa, just outside Honolua Mokuleia Bay Marine Life Conservation District in northwest Maui.
The United States Coast Guard then took control of the vessel, where it was stuck on the shore reef for nearly two weeks. Salvage teams eventually succeeded in removing the Nakoa on March 5, then almost immediately intentionally sunk the vessel in about 800 feet of water.
The tentative $117,472 settlement is not with Jones, but with the yacht’s sellers Kevin and Kimberly Albert.
Jones had financed the $1.45 million yacht through a 15-year purchase agreement with the Alberts, trustees of the Albert Revocable Trust, in 2020.
“As the seller-owners, the Albert Trust parties felt bad about what happened with the Nakoa and although they were not part of the incident, they wanted to pay this fine,” said AJ McWhorter, a DLNR communications specialist, in an Aug. 2 email response to The Garden Island.
“The board only agreed to the proposed settlement with the Alberts and want to get more community input on appropriate action against Jim Jones,” he noted.
According to the DLNR, the Albert Revocable Trust also covered the vessel’s $460,000 salvage costs through boat insurance. It has not yet been determined whether Jones or Noelani Yacht Charters will face additional fines.
During a Board of Land and Natural Resources meeting on July 28, Charlie Taylor, a legal fellow with the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources, explained how fines and damages were calculated.
He stated that assessors determined 1,640.5 square meters of live rock and 119 coral colonies were damaged by the yacht’s grounding, which would have a maximum penalty of over $1.7 million, according to Hawaii Revised Statutes.
But Taylor said the division’s more precise assessment tool determine the value of the area damage was significantly lower.
He stated the live rock damage was valued at $33,520, coral damage was $26,700, and administrative costs totaled $56,852.
Some board members and members of the public disagreed with the total during the meeting, saying the fines should be significantly higher.
Taylor understood that the number might seem low, but said the fines were calculated according to previous enforcement actions that are consistent with similar coral damage fines.
“In terms of our in-house tool, (the corals) were not as monetarily valuable,” he said.
State Board of Land and Natural Resources Chair Dawn Chang said she understood that the settlement might seem disappointing.
“This puts us in a better position because DLNR does not normally go aggressively after vessel owners who ground their owners and cause damage,” she said during the meeting.
Chang noted the department “felt compelled” to take action due to public outcry, as well as their own concerns.
“Having this cooperation with the Trusts is very helpful, as we have already spent a lot of time on this. And I’d like to move on to do a lot of really good work at the department,” she said.
Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-652-0638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island