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Why ARE the Masts Snapping on Hawaiian Cats?

by Sail-World Cruising/Rod Ohira, Honolulu Advertiser on 26 Mar 2007
Maui Rescue, photo by Jason Moore SW
For the second time in less than four months, a commercial catamaran has snapped a mast in Hawaii, both times with fatal results. Further, it turns out that, according to Coast Guard recored, one of the catamarans, owned by Hyatt Regency Maui, has had three mast failures since 1991

Rod Ohira for the Honolulu Advertiser reported that a man was killed Monday when the mast of a catamaran broke during a sunset whale-watching cruise in waters off West Maui.

On Dec. 1, 2006, 13-year-old Jordan James Loser of Riverside, Calif., was killed when the 65-foot mast of the tour catamaran Na Hoku II snapped in brisk winds off Waikiki, pinning him.

About 50 people had to abandon ship from the catamaran yesterday, which later sank in waters off West Maui. Two other people were injured in yesterday’s incident, and were taken in stable condition to Maui Memorial Hospital with injuries. The Coast Guard also reported that three other people were treated for hypothermia.

The 5:09 p.m. accident occurred aboard the 55-foot catamaran Kiele V, owned by the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa.

Two other catamarans on whale-watching cruises off Kahana Beach near Ka'anapali — Teralani III and Gemini — responded to Kiele V's radio call for assistance and arrived on the scene ahead of the Coast Guard and Maui Fire Rescue.

'When we got there, the (Kiele V) captain and crew were trying to cut away the rigging lines so the sail could get away,' said Jason Moore, staff photographer for Maui No Ka Oi Magazine, who was aboard the Teralani III, the first ship to arrive and offer assistance to Kiele V.

'The back side (of the Kiele V) was being pulled down and the captain only had a hacksaw to cut the rigging,' Moore said.

Coast Guard Lt. John Titchen said, 'We are fortunate to have been able to safely bring the survivors to shore, and we were able to do so with the help of the Maui Fire Department and a Good Samaritan. It's a classic example of mariners quickly answering a call for help.'

The 399-foot ice breaker Polar Sea, which was tied to a mooring ball off Lahaina, launched a small vessel and responded quickly to the Kiele V's call for help, Titchen said.

Hyatt Regency Maui management could not be reached for comment last night, but have since issued a written statement:
'We are deeply saddened by this accident, and our concern is for those who have been affected by this tragic event. We are in direct contact with the Coast Guard and other authorities involved to understand how the accident happened,' said Frank Lavey, a spokesman for the resort, in a news release. 'In the meantime, our attention is focused on attending to the people involved.'

No one was injured in the previous incidents, one at sea in 1991 and one in dry dock in 1996.

The 1991 incident on Kiele V occurred when a bar that holds the main mast upright and in place failed, the Coast Guard records show. The mast was replaced, and the replacement broke during repairs in 1996.

From a sailing perspective, there remain a number of questions, the answers to which may emerge from an enquiry:

1. How old were the masts of these two catamarans?
2. What is the regular checking procedure for integrity of the important systems on the yachts?
3. What is the training procedure for crews for such an eventuality?
4. Why did the captain not have an angle grinder or a cable cutter on board?
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