TOTE Inc. announced plans for a new domestic shipping service to Hawaii, with four new liquefied natural gas-ready dual-fuel containerships to be built by Philly Shipyard Inc.. The ships are scheduled to enter service starting in 2020.

Last week the company also opened negotiations to secure deepwater berths at Kapalama Container Terminal in Honolulu, a major step toward TOTE’s expansion beyond its longtime Alaska and Puerto Rico enterprises.

The Hawaii venture is also a further commitment to LNG fuel for TOTE, which has already invested more than $600 million for new build ships and conversions.

“TOTE is excited to bring our best-in-class service to the people of Hawai’i,” said Anthony Chiarello, TOTE president and CEO, in announcing the plan. “TOTE’s presence on the islands will provide market stability and introduce new environmentally advanced vessels that will greatly benefit the islands.”

The new ships will be a continuation of the two Aloha-class 3,600-TEU containerships that Philly Shipyard is currently building for Honolulu-based Matson Inc. at its facility near the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The 853’x115’x38’ designs from Korea Maritime Consultants Co. Ltd. (KOMAC) are the largest container vessels to be built for Jones Act trade, with deliveries scheduled for 2018 and 2019.

A Matson rendering of the Aloha-class containerships to be built by Philly Shipyard.

A Matson rendering of the Aloha-class containerships to be built by Philly Shipyard.

Both Matson and TOTE are operating under a timeframe for environmental regulations that starting in 2020 will force the retirement of aging ships in the Hawaii trade that cannot meet modern MARPOL air emission standards. TOTE officials said their timetable with Philly Shipyard calls for the four new ships to “enter service in early 2020 and 2021, just in time to meet the deadline and maintain trade capacity.”

Philly Shipyard’s corporate parent is Aker ASA, a Norwegian industrial investment company with interests in marine assets including oil and gas and fisheries. The shipbuilding company has a successful history promoting new Jones Act vessel owners in the U.S. market, including the American Shipping Company and Philly Tankers.

The shipbuilders announced in early June they were in discussions with then-unnamed U.S. shipping interests about the prospects for a new Hawaii service. Along with LNG power, the new ships are being designed with an eye toward other trends for larger containers and faster turnaround time, they said.