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The settlement will help reimburse the state for clean up of the harbor

Fish returned to the harbor, but damage to coral is, in some cases, long lasting

CNN  — 

A shipping company will pay Hawaii more than $15 million to settle a spill that put 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor in 2013.

The $15.4 million settlement – a combination of cash, restoration and funding of environmental programs – from Matson Navigation Company will reimburse Hawaii for costs related to cleaning up the harbor, regrow a coral nursery to replace coral damaged or destroyed by the spill, remove a molasses tank facility and support an upcoming international environmental conference.

The September 2013 spill occurred when a Matson ship, bound for the West coast, was being loaded with 1,600 tons of molasses. But a leak in a pipeline to the ship spewed the sticky stuff into the water, killing large amounts of coral and fish.

Shortly after the spill, a diver shot video of the mess on the ocean floor, where the heavy liquid settled.

“I didn’t know so many creatures were down there before, but they’re all dead, and they’re all laying across the bottom,” said Roger White of Cool Blue Diving.

Harbor fights to recover

“This is one of the largest settlements for an environmental violation in Hawaii’s history,” said state Attorney General Doug Chin. “The resources made available as part of this settlement will now begin to restore coral and fund programs to assist with restoring aquatic life.”

Fish returned to Honolulu Harbor within weeks of the spill, but the damage to coral will be much more long-lasting, said Kekoa Kaluhiwa, first deputy with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

A “damage assessment showed that some of the coral killed in the molasses spill can take hundreds of years to grow and are irreplaceable,” Kaluhiwa said. “We are pleased with the scope and severity of this settlement and believe that the resources it provides will help with our future restoration planning.”

Matson pleaded guilty in October 2014 to two federal misdemeanor charges and agreed to pay $400,000 in fines and $600,000 in restitution.

In the spill’s aftermath, Hawaii has tightened up inspection and maintenance requirements for pipelines, said Ford Fuchigami, director of the Hawaii Department of Transportation.