Matson continues fleet renewal with versatile Kanaloa-class ships

Lurline 1
Lurline 1
Lurline, and its sister ship Matsonia, are the largest container/roll-on, roll-offs ever built in the United States.

Matson Navigation has a proud history in the Pacific dating back more than a century. The 870-foot container/roll-on, roll-off (con-ro) Lurline will build on that legacy well into the future.

Lurline is the first of two Kanaloa-class ships built by General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego. Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering collaborated with NASSCO on the design for Lurline and Matsonia, a sister ship scheduled for delivery later this year. The vessels are the largest con-ros ever built in the United States.

Lurline has a covered garage on the aft deck to transport up to 500 vehicles plus  rolling stock, and room for 2,750 twenty-foot equivalent unit containers (TEU). With a top speed of 23 knots, it is one of Matson’s fastest ships, and also its largest and most versatile.

The Kanaloa-class ships are among the “greenest” U.S.-flagged cargo vessels. For instance, Lurline is one of the first ships calling on West Coast ports equipped with an IMO Tier III-certified engine. That 42,738-hp MAN engine also can be converted to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Matson, based in Honolulu, is named for Swedish-born Capt. William Matson. He arrived in San Francisco as a teenager in 1867 and earned a name for himself sailing around San Francisco Bay. Those exploits brought him into contact with the wealthy Spreckels family.

Matson clearly made an impression on the industrialists, who hired him to skipper the family yacht, Lurline. In 1882, the family helped him launch his namesake shipping company, Matson Navigation Co. The company’s first vessel, Emma Claudina, carried building materials west to Hawaii and returned brimming with sugar grown on the islands.

Matson Navigation set many West Coast maritime milestones over the years. The schooner Roderick Dhu earned worldwide acclaim for its electric lights and onboard cold storage plant. Matson’s Enterprise was the first oil-powered steamship engaged in the Pacific trade. The company built its first steamer in 1908, also named Lurline, and later embarked on a passenger transport service to Hawaii and the South Pacific.

Modern-day Matson is focused on the Jones Act market, with an emphasis on Hawaii, Alaska and U.S. Pacific territories. Upon delivery of Matsonia, the company will have finished a multi-year, $900 million fleet renewal. The build program consists of both Kanaloa-class con-ros, as well as two Aloha-class containerships and shoreside upgrades at several ports. Daniel K. Inouye and Kaimana Hila, the Aloha-class vessels, were built at Philly Shipyard. The 854-foot ships sail at 23.5 knots fully loaded and have space for 3,220 TEU.

“We have the capacity and speed to maintain schedules that are efficient,” Capt. Jack Sullivan, Matson’s vice president of vessel operations, said in a recent interview. “We can cover our business with nine ships instead of 10 and still have capacity we need, and most importantly sustain the schedules and customer service.”

“It is a liner service, and it is very important the ship arrives on time as planned,” he continued. “With these new ships, between the Aloha class and Kanaloa class … we have the ability to ensure that is going to get done.”

Since Matson’s founding, six ships have carried the Lurline name, although the newest iteration represents a major advance in every respect. The ship was custom designed for efficiency and speed while underway. It has double-hulled fuel tanks and a freshwater ballast transfer system that can move water throughout the hull to maintain an even trim. It also has a traditional UV ballast water treatment system.

The vehicle garage on the aft deck has four decks for automobiles and two for trailers. It also has space for ample break-bulk cargo. The deck area forward of the superstructure can accommodate 2,750 TEU.

Lurline is powered by a single slow-speed, direct-drive MAN 6G90ME-C10.5-Gl main engine that for now runs on conventional fuel. It is capable of 23 knots, and typically sails at that speed. That extra speed adds up during a four-day transit and helps make up time lost due to weather or other factors. Older ships in the Matson fleet typically sail at about 21.5 knots.

Auxiliary power aboard Lurline comes from two 2,100-kW Hyundai HiMSEN generators and two 2,430-kW generators. A single STX-Cummins unit provides emergency electrical power.

Like the main engine, the four auxiliary power systems aboard Lurline can run on LNG. Converting to cleaner-burning LNG would require the future installation of larger fuel storage tanks, as well as a cryogenic system for keeping the fuel at optimal temperatures. Lurline’s current range using conventional fuel is about 13,700 nautical miles, Sullivan said.

Ships as large as Lurline aren’t often known for their nimbleness. But this con-ro is equipped to give captains and pilots greater control while maneuvering. It has a Becker Marine Systems balanced spade rudder with flap, twisted leading edge and bulb. The rudder can rotate up to 60 degrees at speeds up to 10 knots, versus the traditional 35 degrees. Sullivan said the rudder’s performance was so good the company opted against installing a stern thruster.

“We also have a 1,750-kW bow thruster on the ship, so she is very, very maneuverable and a pleasure to handle,” Sullivan said.

Mariners at Jacobsen Pilot Services, who guide the ship in and out of port in Long Beach, Calif., have similarly positive things to say about its handling. “The word I’m getting back from the guys is they are really liking the Becker rudder and the bow thruster,” said Capt. Jack Strong, vice president of the pilot service. “It handles really well.”

Modern shipbuilding techniques call for building vessels as large as Lurline piece by piece rather than as one ever-growing hull. Crews at General Dynamics NASSCO built numerous modules roughly the size of a house, often upside down. When they are finished, cranes lift them, flip each section over and place it into position. Welders lock each section into place.

“The purpose of constructing ships this way is to maximize efficiency,” NASSCO spokesman Anthony Paolino said. “Many of the blocks are built upside down so that the welders and shipfitters can work in ergonomic positions and have better access to the structure. This is one of the practices that allows us to build the ships quickly and efficiently.”

NASSCO is one of the last remaining U.S. shipbuilders that stern-launch big ships into the water. Lurline is the widest vessel the yard has ever launched down its ways, creating a host of challenges to mitigate and plan for prior to releasing the ship.

“We had to modify our launch facility and widen the ways’ gate in order to create enough clearance to launch this ship,” Paolino said. “Finally, we had to time the launch to coincide with an extremely high tide in order to mitigate the risk of the ship hitting the ways’ wall as it slid into the water.” 

Lurline and Matsonia are designed to operate with 21 crew, although they have accommodations for 32 people plus six riding crew. The ships are outfitted with modern crew amenities that include gym equipment, recreation rooms, and access to TV and movies in their off time. Sullivan said the company tries to exceed the standards stipulated in its mariners’ contracts.

Given Hawaii’s remote location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, cargo ships operated by Matson and other U.S. operators provide nearly all of the islands’ needs. That includes supplies for the state’s normally robust tourist economy, which before the coronavirus drew throngs of visitors from around the world.

The pandemic has devastated Hawaii’s tourism industry that employs thousands of residents. The state’s unemployment rate ballooned to 23 percent in May from 2.7 percent in February. It dropped to about 13 percent in late summer. High unemployment and a sharp decline in tourists has reduced cargo demand, but not as much as the jobless numbers would suggest. Matson reported Hawaii container volume from April through June was down just 4 percent.

At some point, the pandemic will pass. Travelers will return to Hawaii’s tropical climate and sandy beaches. The economy will come back to life. Demand for products will return. And Matson’s new series of Aloha- and Kanaloa-class ships will be ready to meet that demand for a generation or more.

By Professional Mariner Staff