Hole in buried pipeline blamed for molasses leak

The small molasses leak in Kahului Harbor on Sunday morning was caused by a hole in a buried section of the molasses pipeline due to corrosion, according to an Alexander & Baldwin spokeswoman.

The leak occurred while Kahului Trucking & Storage, an A&B subsidiary, was loading a shipment of molasses bound for Korea, said Chris Benjamin, A&B president, Tuesday.

The loading of the molasses ship began Thursday afternoon, with pumping occurring on an intermittent basis, said Benjamin on Monday. The loading was stopped after the leak.

The leak occurred during the final stages of loading. An estimated 15 hours more is required to complete the loading, he said.

The molasses, produced by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. in Puunene, also an A&B subsidiary, will be used for cattle feed in Korea. The deal was arranged through a broker, Benjamin said.

“This molasses shipment is essential to ensure there is sufficient molasses storage capacity available to HC&S to enable it to complete its harvesting season, which is expected to finish in mid-December,” he said.

Molasses is a natural byproduct of the milling of sugar cane into raw sugar.

Molasses shipments from HC&S had stopped following a 233,000-gallon molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor on Sept. 9. Thousands of fish and other sea life were killed by the spill, which triggered a multiagency governmental response.

HC&S reported producing 50,480 tons, or 8.4 million gallons, of molasses last year.

The company had been selling molasses as a cattle feed additive through a distributor on the West Coast before the spill, company officials said. Shipper Matson suspended shipments of molasses in the wake of the Honolulu Harbor spill.

The leak was caused by contact between the pipeline and an old metal washer embedded in the underlying soil, which created the corrosion, he said.

The company estimates that the leak was detected within 15 minutes of its occurrence, with pumping ceasing immediately, Benjamin said. Molasses did flow through the hole into the surrounding soil with a small amount making its way to the harbor.

Kahului Trucking estimates the spill to be 2 gallons, though the state Department of Health has put the amount at 2 to 10 gallons.

Benjamin said that the molasses in the harbor dissipated immediately and that visual inspections indicate that there was no impact on sea life.

“Although somewhat of a freak occurrence, we take full responsibility for the incident,” he said.

The molasses-soaked soil has been removed from the harbor and repair of the molasses pipeline is underway, Benjamin said. When the repairs are complete, Kahului Trucking “will thoroughly inspect and test the repaired portion to ensure the pipe’s integrity before reinstating its use,” he said.

A Health Department official said Monday that the enforcement branch of the department was looking into possible pollution violations.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.