Nichols Delivers Versatile Ferry to American Samoa


The Manu'atele transfers gasoline and diesel fuel to onshore tanks and acts as a floating gas station for small craft alongside and vehicles on shore. Photo by Peter Marsh.

Nichols Brothers Boatbuilders of Whidbey Island, Washington was contracted by the Government of American Samoa to build the M/V Manu'atele, a 140-foot 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 feet long and a maximum 13 feet of draft loaded, with a 38-foot beam. The shallow draft was achieved with a hard-chine steel hull with low deadrise and twin engines.

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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 square-foot cargo 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 pilothouse 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 M/V 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-inch diameter, 4-bladed NIBRAL propellers manufactured by Sound Propellers. Cruising speed is 10 knots, with a top speed of 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 and other power equipment 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 joysticks available, an 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 and the CO2 fire-fighting system was provided 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 the rest with 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, 2,400 miles SW at 14° south latitude. The ferry arrived to a jubilant civic welcome on January 4, 2017.

The Manu'atele is propelled by two 850-HP Caterpillar Tier 3 engines for a cruising speed of 10 knots. Photo courtesy of Nichols Bros.


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