Malfunctioning ocean cleanup boom to arrive in Hilo today

  • The 2,000-foot boom used by the environmental group The Ocean Cleanup will be arriving in Hilo Harbor on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of The Ocean Cleanup)

A 2,000-foot U-shaped floating boom launched in September from San Francisco on Sept. 8 by a Dutch nonprofit organization with a mission to clean plastic waste from the ocean is scheduled to arrive today at Hilo Harbor.

The Ocean Cleanup organization said the boom, called System 001, sustained a structural malfunction discovered by its support crew on Dec. 29, which caused an 18-meter end section to detach from the rest of the system.

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The mission of the boom, designed by The Ocean Cleanup’s founder, 24-year-old Dutch inventor and entrepreneur Boyan Slat, was to start the process of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating mass of discarded waste twice the size of Texas, largely plastic, which is between California and Hawaii.

The plastic barrier with a tapered 10-foot-deep screen is intended to act like a coastline, trapping some of the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic that scientists estimate are swirling in the patch while allowing marine life to safely swim beneath it.

When the boom broke apart, it had been in place at the Great Pacific Garbarge patch since the end of October.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara said Friday the Harbors Division “is in coordination with” The Ocean Cleanup “regarding its damaged equipment used to remove garbage from the sea.”

Sakahara confirmed the anticipated arrival today of System 001 and its support crew in Hilo.

“The organization will perform damage assessments, which will help determine the length of time the asset will be in Hilo Harbor,” Sakahara said in an email.

“Harbor operations will continue as scheduled without impact to other vessels or the general public.”

The Ocean Cleanup said on its website it’s “too early to confirm the cause of the malfunction” but theorizes metal fatigue and a local stress concentration caused the fracture in the boom.

“It’s important to note that both the 580-meter main section and the 18-meter end section are both completely stable; all bulkheads are intact, and the end section has two stabilizers affixed to it, so rollover is not possible,” the organization said. “Also, because no material was lost, there have been no safety risks for the crew, environment or passing marine traffic.

“However, as the redundancy in the cleanup system’s sensors and satellite communication (which are mounted on both end sections) has now been compromised, we concluded it is sensible to return to port.”

Slat told NBC News if the boom can’t be repaired in Hawaii, it will be loaded onto a barge and returned to its home port of Alameda, Calif.

He has said he hopes someday to deploy 60 of the devices to skim plastic debris off the ocean’s surface.

On the web: https://www.theoceancleanup.com/.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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