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Hawaii: German Yacht Skipper Appears in Court in Kona,

By David Ungless — last modified May 26, 2014 12:39 PM
Previously reported in Sail-World and subsequently on noonsite just over a week ago, David Ungless, a cruiser also currently in Hawaii, has sent an update on this case with further information highlighting the difficulties foreign sailing vessels face when trying to find safe mooring in Hawaii.

Published: 2014-05-25 23:00:00
Topics: Environment
Countries: Germany , Hawaii

23 May 2014

The skipper and owner of a German registered 47ft French built sailing yacht appeared in court yesterday charged with damaging coral in Kailua Bay on the west coast of the big island of Hawaii.

As previously reported in Sail World and Noonsite, the charges relate to the destruction of coral with the yacht's anchor chain, which was photographed by a swimmer who then reported the damage to the Division of Boating & Ocean Recreation. DOCARE were notified and they issued a criminal citation against the skipper for violating new local laws introduced the previous day on the 1st May. The law is designed to protect coral throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

The cruising yacht had previously been denied entry into Honokohau Small Boat Harbour by the Harbourmaster due to all slips being reserved for local boat owners. The German skipper was directed to Kailua Bay by the Harbourmaster as a designated anchorage, also confirmed by charts and the local Hawaiian Cruising Guide. As an experienced sailor recently arriving across the Pacific from Mexico, he was able to anchor on sand but changing winds in the notoriously unpredictable Bay caused the yacht's chain to drag over coral heads.

The skipper, with the support of other foreign yachts, sought legal advice prior to the court hearing. He maintained he had been directed to the location by the Harbourmaster and both the charts and the cruising guide made no mention of anchoring restrictions. The skipper also stated there were no mooring buoys provided by the Division of Boating & Ocean Recreation to protect the coral, the buoys available being owned by local boats. He secured his vessel safely on anchor and there were no other choices available to him.

An attorney specialising in marine law advised that International Maritime Law, which the US Federal Government is a signatory, requires the skipper of a foreign vessel to first and foremost consider the safety of his vessel and the risk to crew. The attorney stated that, in this instance, it was the Harbourmaster's and the DB&OR's responsibility to provide mooring facilities for foreign vessels in the Honokohau Boat Harbour, the only safe facility on the west coast of Hawaii, or provide correct and safe mooring buoys in Kailua Bay solely for use of transient vessels in order to protect coral. International Maritime Law relating to safety would take precedent over local laws and therefore the laws to protect coral could be unenforceable where foreign vessels are concerned.

This was submitted to the Court who offered to move the hearing to a full trial in order for the German skipper to plead not guilty on the grounds that he had been directed to that location and he had taken all reasonable precautions by ensuring his anchor was secured in sand in the prescribed manner.

The Court Prosecution requested that the skipper be fined the maximum calculated penalty of $1000 for malicious damage to coral. A full trial hearing for a not guilty plea to be submitted was estimated to require a further four to twelve weeks and a delay to the skipper's plans to continue his planned voyage to Alaska.

With experienced crew already arriving in Honolulu, the Judge, recognising the complexity of the issue, offered the absolute minimum fine of $100 which the skipper elected to pay so the yacht could safely depart Hawaii to arrive in Alaska during the short sailing season.

This incident demonstrates the complexities of protecting coral and the growing problem of safe mooring for foreign sailing vessels transiting through Hawaii. The Islands are an important intermediate destination for cruising yachts that sail between the north and south Pacific and west coast of America. There are few facilities made available with little or no coral protection programs provided by the Division of Boating & Ocean Recreation who rely on a system of warning and Citation to protect endangered sea beds and to control foreign registered vessels.

David Ungless
Honolulu
Hawaii.

About the Author

Dave Ungless is a British freelance travel writer and journalist now earning his living onboard his sailing yacht Sänna. An experienced blue water yachtsman and a sometime mountaineer, Dave is now circumnavigating eastwards with his wife Marie and her thirteen year old son Henry. They are currently in the North Pacific heading for British Columbia and Alaska with plans to transit the Northwest Passage to the Atlantic. Dave writes for a number of sailing magazines and various news media as well his blogs at www.sailblogs.com/member/eastwards and www.davidungless.com.

For the full story of Dave and Marie's circumnavigation voyage visit www.sanna-uk.com.

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