It may not impress alongside the latest behemoth containerships. But it is the biggest containership ever built in a U.S. shipyard, and Matson, Inc., Honolulu, is betting the Daniel K. Inouye, the first of four dual-fuel vessels for its Hawaii trade, is the future of U.S. shipping.

Christened June 30 in Philadelphia, Pa., the 854’, 50,794 dwt vessel has 3,600 TEU container capacity and 408 reefer slots.

It is the first of the Aloha class of diesel and liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled ships, to be followed by another and then two of the 870’ Kanaloa class, with similar container capacity plus roll-on/roll-off for up to 800 vehicles, by 2020. All will have speeds close to 34 knots.

In all it is part of Matson’s $1 billion investment to dominate routes between the West Coast and Hawaii and Guam. The vessels are being built by

Philly Shipyard, Inc., Philadelphia, Pa., a wholly owned subsidiary of Philly Shipyard ASA based in Oslo, Norway. The first two Aloha class ships are costing around $418 million, according to Matson.

The Daniel K. Inouye at Philly Shipyard. Matson photo.

The Daniel K. Inouye at Philly Shipyard. Matson photo.

“This new vessel, designed specifically to serve Hawaii and built with LNG-compatible engines, is the next generation of vessel and sets a new standard for cargo transportation in Hawaii.  It also symbolizes Matson's continuing commitment to serving our island home in the most efficient, effective and environmentally sound way into the future,” said Matson chairman and CEO Matt Cox at a shipyard ceremony.

The Inouye is the largest Jones Act containership every built in a U.S. yard, designed to replace obsolete ships that are running up against U.S. and international deadlines for cleaner engine technology and lower emissions. In addition to the LNG-capable power the ship features a more efficient hull design, double-hulled fuel tanks, and a fresh water ballast system to reduce chances of carrying invasive marine species between ports.

“It is with tremendous gratitude and pride that we celebrate the christening of Daniel K. Inouye, alongside Matson, a returning customer,” Steinar Nerbovik, Philly Shipyard President and CEO, said at the ceremony. “When this ship is delivered, no matter where it travels, it will represent the finest craftsmanship of Philadelphia shipbuilders, and fulfill our promise to provide American built and owned ships that will safely and securely service our nation.”

The ship is named for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who served as the islands’ senior member in the U.S. Senate from 1963 until his death in 2012. A Honolulu native, Inouye fought during World War II in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Japanese-American volunteer unit, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in Europe.

During his time in Washington, Inouye “was a longstanding supporter of the U.S. maritime industry and its important role in supporting Hawaii's economy,” according to Matson officials. Inouye’s wife Irene Hirano Inouye christened the ship with the ceremonial bottle of champagne broken against the hull.

A crowd of about 350 included speakers Peter Navarro, an adviser to President Trump on trade and industrial policy who has spoken out on the value of the Jones Act and U.S. maritime capability, and Rear Adm Mark Buzby, administrator of the Maritime Administration.

Two days later, Buzby wrote about the event on the U.S. Department of Transportation blog Connections:

“At a time when the U.S. maritime industry is fighting to keep its place among international competitors, this event was a momentous occasion. Built for the Hawaii trade, the Inouye represents the blending of the most advanced technologies with proven American shipbuilding skills and was constructed, fittingly, in Philadelphia.

“Once merely an early colonial port settlement, Philadelphia was transformed by the maritime industry into one of the nation’s largest cities boasting a formidable complex of shipping companies, terminals, port facilities, and private and public shipyards.  In that founding generation, ‘American-built’ and ‘American-crewed’ ships meant freedom, independence, and economic and military successes for a young nation. That meaning has not changed to this day.

“Compared to the 22,000-plus TEU mega-container ships that are currently in service, the 3,600 TEU Daniel K. Inouye may seem small. However, the dedicated service that she will provide to the people of Hawaii and the West Coast will be priceless.

“In 2018, the U.S. maritime industry faces many challenges, but this stunning Aloha Class container ship, built at home in the Philly Shipyard by American workers, is a big part of the solution. “


Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.