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Boat captain arrested after leaving divers in waters off Kona

March 7, 2014 - 6:53pm

The captain of a commercial dive boat was arrested early Thursday for boating under the influence after he allegedly left customers at a dive spot off Keauhou.

At 10:13 p.m. Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard notified police that a commercial dive boat, Sea Wolf, and its operator had been reported missing.

The Coast Guard had received a report at 9:18 p.m. from the vessel’s owner, Iruka Hawaii, who claimed the captain was last seen dropping off the boat’s customers at the popular manta ray dive spot about 30 yards offshore Keauhou, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Melissa McKenzie of the Coast Guard District 14 Hawaii.

Another tour company picked up the boat’s customers from a dive spot. The Sea Wolf and its operator were later found drifting offshore and were towed to Honokohau Harbor by another boat, the Hawaii County Police Department said.

McKenzie said the Ipo Kai was the Good Samaritan vessel that towed the Sea Wolf in. She did not know the name of the vessel that rescued the abandoned customers. She also added no injuries were reported.

Shortly after midnight Thursday, police arrested the 30-year-old operator of Sea Wolf on suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant. The Kailua-Kona resident was released at 1:30 a.m. pending further investigation, police said.

Besides the police department, McKenzie said the Coast Guard is also investigating the incident. She reminded the public that operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drug is dangerous and a federal offense. If a boat operator has a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater, he can be subjected to penalties, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, a one-year imprisonment, or both. Besides arrests, fines and jail time, they could also have their boating and motor vehicle driving privileges terminated.

In a written statement sent to West Hawaii Today, Iruka Hawaii said it regrets the incident and is taking it “very seriously.”

“We employ knowledgeable and trustworthy staff, and we settle for nothing less when it comes to the safety of our guests. It is our passion to inspire the lives of our passengers without ever having to compromise anyone’s well-being,” the company stated. “As soon as we heard the vessel was missing, we immediately contacted the Coast Guard, Police, and Fire Department. The local authorities have an ongoing investigation of the incident. We are also conducting our own investigation as well. We are currently suspending our tours in Kona until we can wholeheartedly know that such an occurrence will not happen again. We are doing a complete review of our procedures, policies, and protocols.”

Iruka Hawaii also thanked the companies and boat captains who assisted in the search, especially Capt. Pononui Lealao of Kona Ocean Adventures who found the Sea Wolf.

“We are faithfully grateful to have competent and caring friends in a strong, benevolent community of professional,” the company stated.

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