American Samoa fishermen stand to benefit from four modern “Super Alia” vessels that evoke the region’s culturally significant alia sailing canoes.
ACI Boats has been awarded a $3-million contract with the American Samoa Government’s (ASG) Department of Commerce for four “Super Alia” commercial fishing vessels. The four aluminum catamarans are to be constructed at the 20,000-square-foot ACI facility in Port Townsend, Wash.
The name “Super Alia” evokes the maritime heritage of the iconic alia sailing canoes of the South Pacific.
The boats are to be identical 38-foot by 14-foot semi-displacement catamarans, designed by ACI and Coastwise Marine Design. They’re set to be constructed with 5,086 aluminum hull skins with 5,052 aluminum interior transverse frames. Design features include ACI’s self-bailing decks and a forward-leaning full-width cabin with cuddy, galley and head compartments.
ACI specializes in aluminum boat building with expertise in both monohulls and catamarans. The company was founded by Cory Armstrong, an avid sailor who traces his lifelong professional boatbuilding career to his stint at 17 as the lead night welder for Western Aluminum Craft.
ACI Boats has facilities in both Port Townsend and Anchorage, Alaska. The main shop in Washington has access to the port’s Travelift and industry-leading equipment such as precision computerized numerical control (CNC) machines.
The company also performs in-house upholstery, cabinetry and finish work, in addition to a dedicated paint booth. It employs more than 30 people.
“The driving factor of these larger boats is to have a working, safe platform for offshore fishing,” said Carrie Fiore, general manager of the boat building and repair business Armstrong Consolidated, which is affiliated with ACI.
“The vessel is a displacement cat(amaran) that is stable and can travel long range,” she continued. “These vessels will enable the fisherman to be out for a few days in a variety of weather conditions compared to the smaller vessel. They are low maintenance and durable as a welded aluminum product. The lightweight allows for maximum payload and profitability.”
The “Super Alia” has an extended aluminum roof over the aft deck to shelter the work area. Fishing gear will include Lingren-Pitman commercial hydraulic longline gear and three ProFisher electric deep-sea reels. A worktable and two 75 cubic feet of insulated fish holds are included. The propulsion system will feature twin 195-horsepower Yanmar diesel inboards.
“We are going to cut metals and start standing up frames for the first boat soon,” Fiore said. “The next year we will be completing the first boat and having the other three trailing by a few months.”
“We wanted the design to be a familiar design, which is why it is a double-hulled cat,” ASG Department of Commerce (DOC) Assistant Director Michael McDonald explained. “The ancient Samoan navigator-voyagers used alias to settle the South Pacific, which were double-hulled vessels as well.”
“On behalf of Madam Director Petti Matila, (the DOC looks) forward to working with (ACI Boats) in bringing this great economic development project to fruition for the ASG and people of American Samoa, but especially the fishing community and local fresh fish industry,” ASG Fisheries Economic Development Coordinator Tony Langkilde said.
He added that ASG also thanks the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and Office of International Affairs for their funding.
“We are excited to take on this project, signaling a positive step in the expansion and growth of our business, and workforce in the Port of Port Townsend,” ACI’s Armstrong said. “This is an amazing opportunity for us as a business to build four vessels to the same specifications, while also providing a safe and durable product to the people of American Samoa.”
The origins of the deal can be traced to a 2016 ASG Request for Proposal (RFP) for design of the vessels. The government awarded the contract to ACI. Subsequently, officials issued an RFP for construction as well.
“The American Samoa Government was seeking a means to further develop the fresh-fish industry of the territory, for both the local and export markets,” said McDonald, who added that local fishermen have been using a much smaller fishing vessel since the 1970s and that there’s a need for a significant upgrade to a more productive, efficient, profitable and safe vessel.
“Tuna canning and pouching for export to the U.S. is the primary industry in American Samoa,” he said. “In fact, StarKist maintains its largest cannery-plant here.”
The fishery is constantly monitored with its wellbeing, productivity and resilience of paramount importance. The “Super Alia” project is primarily focused on fishing located in and around the territory’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
“The domestic fishery has been somewhat unproductive for years due to several factors: competing economic opportunities, minimal returns on investments, workforce development challenges, infrastructure challenges, and of course the lack of a proper fishing vessel to support development efforts,” McDonald explained.
The ACI-built “Super Alias” are part of the attempt to address the challenges. After the government sought feedback from local fishermen and other stakeholders, McDonald said, the Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs funded the design effort. Meanwhile, the DOC submitted a grant application to the U.S. EDA which was awarded.
Once completed, the first of the four vessels will be used as a training platform; the remaining three boats are expected to be completed over the course of 18 months and then leased by the American Samoa DOC to support the growth and safety of the local fishing fleet.
The goal, McDonald said, is to support local restaurants and tourism, while also creating economic opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs.
“The “Super Alia” is at the center of this strategy and we are looking forward to making this become a reality,” he said.
Norris Comer is a Seattle-based writer and author. His debut memoir, Salmon in the Seine: Alaskan Memories of Life, Death, & Everything In-Between is now available wherever books are sold. You can find him on Substack, Instagram and at norriscomer.com.