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Molasses spill in Hawaii prompts call for oversight

An environmental cleanup crew scooped a dead eel out of Keehi Lagoon after a massive molasses spill in Honolulu.

Hugh Gentry/Reuters

An environmental cleanup crew scooped a dead eel out of Keehi Lagoon after a massive molasses spill in Honolulu.

HONOLULU — US Senator Brian Schatz said more than just a pipe failed when 1,400 tons of molasses spilled into Honolulu Harbor last week, killing thousands of fish.

Schatz said it is clear lawmakers have to look at how the system run by shipping company Matson Navigation Co. is regulated by federal and state officials.

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‘‘I don’t think there’s any doubt that that’s one of the things that we’re going to have to take a look at,’’ Schatz said when asked about Matson’s lack of a spill plan and oversight of the underground pipes connected to Hawaii’s waters.

Some 233,000 gallons of molasses spilled from a leaky pipe Sept. 9 as the sugary substance was moved from storage tanks to ships sailing to California. It happened in an industrial area west of downtown.

State and federal agencies appear to have little role in maintaining the underground pipes, state officials said last week. ‘‘It’s clear that this wasn’t just a mechanical failure of a pipe but also a systems failure,’’ Schatz said.

A Coast Guard unit that specializes in responding to hazardous spills is joining the effort to clean up and assess the damage. The cause of the spill has not been determined.

Vic Angoco, senior vice president for Matson’s Pacific operations, has said the company takes responsibility but had no contingency plan for the possibility of the spill, despite moving molasses from the harbor for about 30 years.

State officials have said they don’t believe Matson was required to have any such plans.

Thousands of fish have died, but the full extent of the damage and how long it might last are unclear.

‘‘All of us who care about the south shore of Oahu are sick about this,’’ Schatz said.

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