Officials in Hawaii seized a motorboat that had been floating just feet away from a sacred site on Maui known as the Hauola Stone.
The officials told the boat owner they are taking control of the 56-foot grounded motorboat, named Kuuipo, in order "to avoid damaging a culturally significant site," the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a Facebook post Saturday. The department's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, known as DOBOR, is "immediately hiring a contractor to move the vessel to a safe location," the department said.
The incident began on March 8 when the boat grounded on the north side of Lāhainā Boat Harbor. The boat owner, Vernon Ray Lindsey, of Wailuku, told government staff he was hiring a salvage company to remove the boat, and he was informed he couldn't bring the boat anywhere near the Hauola Stone, the department said.
However, the division learned on Saturday that the boat had been refloated about 8 feet away from the stone, the department said.
"You are hereby notified that in order to protect this culturally significant site as well as to protect the natural resources ... the State of Hawai'i, through DOBOR, is immediately taking control of Kuuipo," DOBOR Assistant Administrator Meghan Statts wrote in a letter to Lindsey.
The Hauola Stone is a chair-shaped stone along the western coast of Maui that has been used as a birthing site for royalty and a healing site for ailing people over centuries, according to a sign posted at the location.
"The Hauola stone is where the Pi'ilani ali'i line of Maui birthed their children. It is a sacred site," the natural resources department's Deputy Director Laura Kaakua said in a statement. "DLNR did not permit the owner to bring their boat anywhere near the stone, and specifically directed the owner to stay far away from the cultural site.
"The majority of boat owners are responsible, but recent actions by a few have harmed Hawai'i's natural and cultural resources. Damage to our reefs and cultures sites is unacceptable. DLNR is exploring ways to enforce responsible ownership to protect our ocean environment."
Unauthorized individuals who try to access the boat could face trespassing charges, and the owner is responsible "for all costs and expenses associated with the removal and disposal," Statts said.
The owner could also be responsible for coral or live rock damage, due to the grounding of the boat, the department said.