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Lava bomb injures 23, but boat tours go on

July 17, 2018

Hawaii tour boat operators plan to continue taking visitors to see lava, but will follow the Coast Guard’s revised policy and stay farther away after an explosion caused molten rock to barrel through the roof of a vessel, injuring 23 people.

The Coast Guard prohibits vessels from getting closer than 984 feet from where Kilauea volcano’s lava oozes into the sea. The agency had been allowing experienced boat operators to apply for a special license to get closer up to 164 feet, but it stopped allowing those exceptions Monday morning.

A woman in her 20s was transported to Honolulu in serious condition with a broken thigh bone. The other 22 people injured were treated for minor burns and scrapes, including 12 who were treated at a hospital in Hilo.

Moku Nui Lava Tours Captain Kanoa Jones, whose boat was not involved in Monday’s incident at Kilauea volcano, said not running the tours would only withhold income from local restaurants and other businesses dependent on tourism, he said.

“If we stop operating, it not only hurts us, it hurts the community,” Jones said.

The Coast Guard, state and local officials were investigating what happened.

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West said the agency can’t say whether it will change its safety zone rules until it finishes its investigation.

The county strictly limits access to the lava on land for safety reasons, making boat and helicopter tours the only options people have to witness volcanic spectacle in person. The ocean and aerial tours each cost about $250.

The restrictions have deterred many travelers from visiting the Big Island in general, and Puna near the volcano in particular.

Shane Turpin, the owner and captain of the vessel that was hit, said he never saw the explosion.

“As we were exiting the zone, all of a sudden everything around us exploded,” he said. “It was everywhere.”