Nichols Brothers Boatbuilders of Whidbey Island, Wash. was contracted by the Government of American Samoa to build the MV Manu’Atele, a 140′ multi-purpose inter-island ferry to operate between the capital Pago Pago and the Manu’a Islands. “We have visited American Samoa multiple times to survey and learn from the current vessels and operators so we can provide them with a vessel that will maximize their operations and supplement their existing fleet,” explained Gavin Higgins, Nichols CEO.
The weekly route departs the capital Pago Pago on Tutuila Island and calls at the north coast villages of Afono, Vatia and Fagasa, then heads west across 60 miles of open ocean to reach the remote Manu’a Islands. This requires transiting narrow passes in coral reefs, turning in tight quarters and docking in shallow water in the harbors on the Ta’u and Ofu Islands. Samoan government representatives and the naval architects established the maximum practical size of the Manu’Atele at 140′ long and a maximum 13’ draft loaded, with a 38’ beam. The shallow draft was achieved with a hard-chine steel hull with low deadrise and twin engines.
Elliott Bay Design Group was chosen to provide design and engineering services to meet ABS Load Line Rules, and USCG 46 CFR Subchapter T, Passenger/Cargo, plus the ocean-going certification by SOLAS and MARPOL because it will operate in international waters and may visit other island nations like Tonga and Fiji.
“This is an exciting and rewarding project for Nichols as it is a real design build project,” said project manager Mark Thompson. One of the challenges was to enable the ship to handle cargo of all kinds at small docks, so the aft deck is laid out in an unusual way. At the stern is a ramp lifted by a pair of Pull Master hydraulic winches. This allows loading of vehicles from a beach onto the 1,840 sq. ft. cargo ware deck with a total capacity of 165 tons. A 15-ton capacity telescoping North Pacific deck crane can hoist cargo from a dock in slings, on pallets, and in 10-foot by 8-foot containers.
The main deck and upper deck mustering areas amidships with handrails and gates meet the SOLAS requirement regarding safe access to the pair of self-righting lifeboats. Six inflatable liferafts are stowed against the rails on the bridge deck. Cabins for up to 15 crewmen are positioned at the aft end of the deckhouse on the main and upper decks, with a large galley equipped with commercial-grade appliances. Other deck gear includes four fire monitors and a Rapp anchor winch on the raised foredeck to hoist the twin anchors with heavy chain rodes.
Special attention was given to fuel handling as the vessel transfers gasoline and diesel fuel to onshore tanks and acts as a floating gas station for small craft alongside and vehicles on shore. So all fuel valves, vents and hoses are located on the aft deckhouse bulkhead inside a large overflow-containment sump. There is also a metering pump below deck to ensure accuracy as fuel is dispensed. The passenger deck, crew’s living quarters, and pilot house ventilation is provided by six large Dometic DQA072Q condenser units on the top deck behind the wheelhouse.
There is comfortable seating for 140 passengers in an air-conditioned salon forward—a welcome upgrade from the vessel currently in use, a 30-year old rig supply boat with bench seats added below deck. “On the old MV Sili, passengers sit on the bottom and second level on bench-style seats that are very uncomfortable,” said the government’s port administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele. “On the Manu’atele all the chairs are individual and cushioned and all the equipment is very modern.”
The vessel is propelled by two 850-HP Caterpillar C32 ACERT Tier 3 engines, with Twin Disc MGX-5225 DC, 4.03:1 reduction gears and 60”-diameter, 4-bladed NIBRAL propellers manufactured by Sound Propellers. Cruising speed is 10 knots, top speed `12 knots. The generators are a pair of 99 kW Caterpillar C4.4 Tier 3/IMO II compliant. For safety and reliability, there are Sauer Danfoss hydraulic pumps on all four engines to make sure the Kobelt wheel steering, 150-hp bow thruster, crane, ramp winches, etc can be operated when the main engines are shut down. The wide beam results in walkways with full access to all four power plants, Alfa Laval fuel filter and other machinery.
All four engines exhaust through the single starboard stack. The bridge is fully equipped with wheel steering and joy sticks available, auto-pilot by Sperry, and on-board communications by Hose McCann. Navigation electronics are by Furuno, the captain’s chair is a SeaPost by Bostrom, the CO2 fire-fighting system is by Alexander Gow.
The Manu’atele cost about $12.8 million funded with $8.6 million in Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funding from the US Interior Department and $5 million in proceeds from the American Samoa Economic Development Authority’s issued bonds. The ship departed the mainland US on December 14, 2016 bound 2,200 miles to Honolulu for re-fueling. The crew spent Christmas onshore and departed for American Samoa, 2400 miles SW at 14° south latitude. The ferry arrived to a jubilant civic welcome on January 4, 2017.
The Manu’a Islands Go Solar
These islands are the only inhabited territory of the United States in the Southern Hemisphere.
Most of the population of this region is Polynesian and they have preserved a culture known as fa’a Samoa (The Samoan Way) and an indigenous form of governance called fa’amatai–the chiefly system that is central to the organization of their society.
The electric utility on American Samoa’s eastern most island Ta’u is now based on a new solar powered 1.4 megawatt micro grid and battery system with six megawatt hours of storage. This is enough to power the entire island night and day according to the supplier, Solar City, recently acquired by electric car company Tesla.
An array of 5,000 solar panels is backed up by 60 Tesla Power pack battery storage systems that can recharge in 7-hours and provide Ta’u with three full days of power without sun. The island’s population of less than 1,000 people has relied almost entirely on diesel generators for electricity, running on fuel shipped in by the MV Sili. This made their operation expensive at nearly $110,000 per year, and time-consuming to keep the tanks filled.