Strange, Sweet Killer

I don’t know anything about spills – oil, sewage or any type of hazardous materials.

I also will readily admit I didn’t know we were shipping molasses to Oakland, let alone producing molasses in the Islands. Pumping molasses to offshore vessels to be delivered to other Mainland ports sounds like something out of a James Bond movie.

What’s even stranger to me is that the massive molasses spill killed thousands of fish, other marine life and coral beds in Honolulu Harbor. You don’t think of molasses as a dangerous substance, just a sweet ingredient you put in or on food to make it taste better. But when you hear the spill was approximately 1,400 tons, it sounds much more serious.

I am relieved that experts from all over the nation are focused on cleaning up the spill and saving marine life, and protecting our valuable coral beds in Honolulu Harbor.

Experts rallied around the spill seeking answers and, in true media fashion, trying to place the blame on someone, some company, some individual, maybe a union – anyone.

Only after the scientists explained how molasses sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor after it enters the water did the general public realize how marine life could suffocate and die. The experts went on to explain how the spilled molasses would be removed by currents in the harbor and not by some kind of large vacuum cleaner.

In the process, the public learned that there was a huge pipeline that was laid a long time ago that goes from under a pier, under Honolulu Harbor to a waiting ship offshore.

Nobody seemed to know how often the pipeline is inspected or to what kind of maintenance program it was linked.

In the midst of all the speculation, politicians were making statements about what needed to be done to make sure this sort of thing never happens again.

I personally was still on square one trying to figure out where the molasses was produced. I thought the agriculture industry had given up on making money from sugar and pineapple.

Guess not.

As the turmoil continued, something happened that should stand as an example of how to handle an environmental disaster, or any kind of disaster, for that matter.

Like a bolt of lightning from heaven, Matt Cox, the CEO of Matson Navigation Co., came forward and declared that his company was responsible and would pay for all damages and will not raise rates to cover the cost of the cleanup.

He went on to promise that the company would conduct an investigation to make sure it never happens again.

That kind of statement is very rare, to say the least.

When you are talking about corporate responsibility and community partnerships, this press release was a work of art, a real keeper for other CEOs to learn from.

Correction: Last week’s column stated that our public pension fund is $27 million in the hole. It should have read $27 billion.