Young Brothers sues tug operator

LIHUE — Young Brothers is suing the tug boat operator involved in the October barge accident in Nawiliwili Harbor, saying that intoxicated crew members were responsible for the mishap.

The negligence, breach of contract and federal maritime law complaint was filed Jan. 7, in U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii. It alleges crew members of the tug Moana Holo were drunk, which allowed the barge Makaala to break free of its tow and ground into the breakwater.

The Moana Holo contracts with Young Brothers through its subsidiary, Hawaiian Tug and Barge. The company could not confirm if the tug was still operational.

He could not comment on a pending lawsuit.

Young Brothers Vice President Roy Catalani issued a statement Friday, saying the incident was regrettable.

“We’re also grateful that no employees were injured, no customer cargo was lost or damaged, and no fuel or oil leaked from our vessels,” Catalani said.

He went on to assure businesses and residents who transport cargo on Young Brothers’ barges the incident is an anomaly.

“Young Brothers transports thousands of containers of cargo each month and we take seriously our commitment to providing excellent service, including handling customers’ cargo safely and securely,” he said.

The incident occurred around 8 p.m. Oct. 31. The tug and barge departed Nawiliwili Harbor with chief mate Elia Long controlling the aft winch that let out the tow wire to the barge, according to the complaint. The winch was not stopped and all the wire rolled off the drum and released the barge from the tow. The entire crew assisted with the attempt to regain control of barge, but the vessels parted before a second line could be secured.

Young Brothers was notified of the problem around 8:30 p.m. Both the Moana Holo and the Makaala impacted the breakwater at the entrance to Nawiliwili Harbor around 9 p.m.

The Moana Holo suffered a breach in the hull and damage to both Nautican nozzles, but remained functional. With the assistance of a second tug, the Mikiona, the Makaala was secured, but after suffering extensive hull damage to the stern area, starboard side and bow rake.

Young Brothers took precautionary measures to ensure no vessels were lost and contaminants were not released into the ocean, the complaint states.

When it was discovered the Makaala’s port skeg — an extension of the keel with a rudder — was lost as a result of the impact with the breakwater, the U.S. Coast Guard closed the port at Nawiliwili because of the potential threat to navigation.

The Moana Holo crew was ordered to take an alcohol test after the vessels were secured. According to the complaint, the crew did not take the tests as ordered in violation of federal law.

The four-count complaint charges negligence against Long for reckless disregard of his duties by consuming alcohol prior to the departure. It also argues Capt. Arthur Takushi knew crew members consumed alcohol and his duty was to cancel a voyage if he believed intoxication of the crew rendered the tug unseaworthy.

Takushi is charged with intentional disregard of federal law and company directives and misconduct for impeding an investigation.

The suit will list costs and expenses in its charge for punitive damages at trial.

Young Brothers, Limited is represented by the Honolulu firm Frame & Nakano. The defendants were served but no representation is filed yet in federal court. Neither Long nor Takushi could be reached for comment Friday.

The case is assigned to Judge Barry Kurren. A scheduling conference was ordered for April 13.

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Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

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