An Automobile Ferry Service
The islands of Rota and Tinian have suffered for many years as a result of lack of development. Considering that the ocean is the Marianas highway, a great stimulus to economic growth of each might possibly be an automobile ferry route. Such a vessel should also be designed to carry freight, containers and should be equipped with sleeping cabins and a restaurant.
Such a vessel would serve to make the four inhabited Mariana Islands more cohesive and contribute to a tighter sense of community – something that is needed. The population and tourist market are as follows: Guam: – 143,589 with 1.0 million tourists (1994); Rota – 3,509; Tinian – 2,631; Saipan – 52,698 with 684,899 tourist entries (1997 air only). The approximate open sea distances between these islands are, (from south to north) Guam – Rota – 47 nautical miles; Rota – Tinian – 63 n. m.; Tinian – Saipan – 10 n. m. Aside from the traffic generated by residents within the islands, such a vessel would permit a tourist on Saipan or Guam to rent a vehicle, tour the island and drive to the ferry and board. After a pleasant overnight ocean cruise, dinner and a comfortable cabin, the next morning the visitor could disembark at Guam and tour that island. Afterward turning the vehicle in at Guam and flying home.
Another tourist flies to any any of the three other islands for a tour. A four or five day trip would permit a vehicle tour of all four islands. This potential project should be evaluated to determine the project’s feasibility. At the end of the Cold War legislation was passed by the United States Congress (Title XI – National Shipbuilding Initiative, Public Law 103-160 – subtitle D 1993) to assist in retaining the United States ship building capability and the necessary skills for national defense efforts. The law is administered by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation. This federal program provides for government guarantees to enable ship owners to borrow private sector funds on terms that may not otherwise be available, namely, the program guarantees up to 87.5 percent of a loan at fixed rates with a long term maturity. The guaranty is available to any financial institution regardless of nationality and one does not have to be a United States citizen in order to own and operate a vessel constructed under the loan program.
The legislation was passed to keep American shipyards open and to relieve unemployment and under employment in those domestic areas of the United States where shipbuilding is an important industry. Should it be determined from a feasibility study that a ferry operation can be justified on the Saipan – Guam route, then the vessel would have to be constructed in an American shipyard in order to qualify for the guaranty and thus contribute to relieving unemployment and under employment in that particular area of the United States. Thus, in effect, the program applied to the Commonwealth contributes to the national goal intended by Congress. Title 23, section 129 of the U. S. Code also provides for the use of Federal-aid highway funds in the construction of ferry boats and ferry terminal facilities.
The Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration both provide financial subsidies for automobile ferry service in the United States. The National Technical Assistance Program of the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA) has indicated an interest in considering financing a feasibility study for such an automobile ferry service between the islands. The following action is necessary: a qualified individual should visit each of the four islands to examine the situation and prepare a feasibility study to provide estimates of the following: cost of port and dock construction at Guam, Rota, Tinian and Saipan; cost of the vessel with a detailed estimate of the annual operating costs including maintenance; estimate the number of days the vessel might be out of operation due to bad weather and maintenance; evaluate the market for the use of the route on all four islands; determine if Guam would be interested in the concept; estimate the one way and round trip cost to the consumer considering the amenities of an over night ocean voyage as compared with the current cost of round trip air fare, vehicle and hotel accommodation rental at each end of the route. the United States. ” Oh”, you say, “ another project that can’t pass the cost benefit test.”
There are airfields on Rota and Tinian financed by a U. S. Government grant that couldn’t pass such tests either. After all the ocean is our highway, we should figure a way to use it as such.Title 23, section 129 of the U. S. Code provides for the use of Federal-aid highway funds in the construction of ferry boats and ferry terminal facilities.