Catamaran dinner boat with 60 passengers runs agrounds in entrance channel off Maui

Sixty passengers were evacuated from a 65-foot catamaran after the dinner cruise vessel ran aground off Maui, Hawaii.

Spirit of Lahaina got stuck in the entrance channel to Lahaina Harbor at about 1730 on Dec. 30, 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The dinner cruise was on its way out of the harbor when it grounded at low tide, in daylight with good visibility, said Lt. Cmdr. James Stellflug, supervisor of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Team Maui. Winds were light from the southeast at about 10 knots.

Stellflug said aids to navigation were all on station and watching properly. Private aids to navigation in the channel could not be verified.

The Coast Guard said watch-standers at Sector Honolulu were not notified until 1930, two hours after the grounding. Crewmembers from Coast Guard Station Maui sailed to the area in a 45-foot response boat to monitor the situation.

“There was no breach in the hull,” Stellflug said. “The vessel was not taking on water in any way.”

The passengers were evacuated to good Samaritan vessels Great White, Man-O-War and a skiff, Stellflug said.

Spirit of Lahaina was refloated with the assistance of another commercially operated catamaran, Kaulana.

The Coast Guard said Spirit of Lahaina was able to make its way back to the dock under its own power. An underwater inspection of the hull revealed only propeller and rudder damage.

Spirit of Lahaina is operated by Star of Honolulu Cruises and Events. Richard Davidson, the company’s general manager, confirmed the propeller and rudder damage and said that the vessel is back in service. He declined to comment on the cause of the grounding.

Kaulana is operated by David Jung, senior captain for the Lahaina Cruise Co. Jung said he pulled the grounded catamaran off a sandbar just outside the channel. He said the channel is narrow and a “bad approach” usually is the reason for groundings there.

“I have pulled quite a few of these cats off,” he said. “When your vessel is close to running aground, the natural reaction is to pull the bow away (from the grounding). This just runs the stern and props aground. It is better to stop and maneuver the vessel. These cats are very maneuverable. Operators also need to understand the pivot point of their vessel.”

Jung said that the passengers were evacuated by skiff after spending about an hour aboard the grounded vessel. Spirit of Lahaina was refloated within two hours after the grounding.

Stellflug said that there was no pollution associated with the accident. The Coast Guard was still investigating the cause of the grounding in March.

John Snyder

By Professional Mariner Staff