Six people who had been aboard a fishing charter boat that sank approximately two miles off Kahoolawe were rescued Monday when they were picked up by another boat in the area.
Kahului resident David Miyake, who was fishing with two friends near a buoy near Kahoolawe, said his recreational boat had passed the 43-foot Piper when it was still afloat. Miyake's boat, Misti III, was 100 to 150 yards away when his friend Norman Tan turned back to see the bottom of the Piper with its bow lifting out of the water as it began sinking.
"By the time we brought up our lines and turned, the boat was almost underwater," Miyake said Tuesday. "It all happened within five or 10 minutes. I couldn't believe a boat could sink that fast."
Added Tan: "Before we reached it, the boat sank in front of our eyes. Seeing something like that shook me up."
According to the Coast Guard, the six people aboard the Piper had put on their life jackets as the vessel was sinking and abandoned the ship. After receiving a call at noon from the captain, the Coast Guard launched a 45-foot response boat from Coast Guard Station Maui at Maalaea. But the 36-foot Misti III got there first.
The Coast Guard also issued an urgent marine information broadcast seeking immediate assistance for the sinking Piper.
Because his radio was on another channel, Miyake said he didn't hear the Coast Guard broadcast.
But after seeing that the Piper was sinking, he, Tan and Raymond Otsubo reeled in their fishing lines, and Miyake turned the boat around to reach the Piper's location.
Miyake pulled his boat up next to the Piper's captain, a crew member and a woman who were in the water so they could get onto the Misti III. Then the boat took aboard a man and two teenagers - a boy and girl - who were in a life raft, Miyake said.
He said all six were wearing life jackets and were calm. He later learned the passengers were a family visiting from Atlanta.
"They were happy to see us," Tan said.
Tan and Miyake said they were told that the Piper crew had been trying to remove a rope tangled in a propeller before the boat began taking on water. While heading out toward the buoy and again when returning from it, the Misti III crew had seen the Piper in the same location, Tan said.
Reached Tuesday afternoon, the Piper captain declined to talk about what happened, saying it was still under investigation. Calls to the fishing charter company Monday and Tuesday weren't returned.
According to the Coast Guard, the vessel sank in approximately 1,200 feet of water and has an unspecified amount of diesel fuel aboard. The Coast Guard reported that it would continue to monitor for pollution or debris from the vessel, but no pollution was visible Tuesday.
"The sinking is under investigation and is being treated as a serious marine incident by the Coast Guard," its news release said.
Miyake said it was lucky that the sea was calm Monday.
"It was a really beautiful day, hardly any wind," he said. "If it was rough and windy, I think they would have been blown away."
The Misti III took about an hour and a half to transport the Piper occupants to Maalaea Harbor, about 18 miles from where the boat sank, Miyake said.
An emergency medical services crew met the boat at the harbor, and no serious injuries were reported, according to the Coast Guard.
"This is a great example of why it is important to have all of the required safety gear aboard your vessel," said Cmdr. Steve Wheeler, chief of response for the Coast Guard in Honolulu. "By having the required lifesaving equipment aboard, the captain ensured the safety of his passengers and prevented an unnecessary loss of life."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.