Hawaii Tourism Exec Talks Tour Boat Hit by Lava

Photo by Dan Dennison (State of Hawaii) / Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

Twenty-three people were injured on a Lava Ocean Tours vessel in the waters near Hawaii’s Big Island when a shower of molten rock – described in the consumer media as a “lava bomb” – fell on the vessel, leaving a significant hole in its roof. The vessel was conducting a tour of the area at Kapoho where the water from the ongoing eruption of the Kilauea volcano enters the sea.

The vessel was sailing out of Wailoa Small Boat Harbor in Hilo, where the company had voluntarily relocated from its boat ramp in Pohoiki, which is approximately a half a mile from the active ocean entry area, according to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

"The unfortunate event is a good reminder about the risks involved with observing a natural wonder like this one and the reason officials are continuously monitoring the eruption to ensure the public is kept at safe distances on land, in the air and while at sea,” said Ross Birch, executive director, Island of Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau, in a statement provided to Travel Agent. “Despite the duration of the activity, the Kīlauea lava flow continues to affect less than 1 percent of the island in the Lower Puna District. We anticipate that experiencing this once in a lifetime event will continue to be a top priority for most visitors coming to the island of Hawai‘i.”

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After the explosion the vessel returned to Wailoa, where it was met by emergency personnel. Four people had to be transported to the Hilo Medical Center by ambulance, nine others went to the hospital in private vehicles, and 10 people were treated on the scene for minor soft tissue injuries and burns. The most serious injury was a traumatic leg injury suffered by a 20-year-old woman, while all other passengers who went to the hospital were treated for minor scrapes and burns, according to the DLNR.

Another tour boat operated by Hawaiian Lava Boat Tours was off-shore when the explosion occurred. That company provided a video which shows a second explosion, approximately one minute after the first explosion that damaged the Lava Ocean Tours vessel:

The DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) and the U.S. Coast Guard are investigating the incident. The owner of the vessel has a current and valid permit for conducting commercial ocean tours of the Kapoho active ocean entry area, the DLNR said, as well as permission to use the Wailoa harbor as its base of operations. Additionally, the Coast Guard established a permanent safety zone surrounding the lava entry area, which encompasses all waters extending 984 feet around all ocean-entry points.

“Clearly everyone is interested to learn what happened this morning,” said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case in a written statement. “In the meantime, all of those injured today are vey much in our thoughts for speedy and full recoveries.”

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