The Matson ships will be completed in the third and fourth quarters of 2018 and will be the largest Jones Act container ships ever built, capable of moving 3,600 20-foot containers at speeds greater than 23 knots.
Matson and Aker have worked together before. The shipyard built four container ships for Matson between 2003 and 2006.
"We did put out bids to other shipyards. Aker came in with a great bid," said Matson spokesman Jeff Hull. "But we also are really pleased with the ships that we have in service today."
The first ship will be named for the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, "a long-standing supporter of the U.S. maritime industry and its role in supporting Hawaii's economy," Matson said.
The ships will be capable of moving 45-foot containers with a mix of cargo, ranging from construction materials to refrigerated cargo such as fruits and vegetables.
Matson, founded in 1882, is a leading U.S. carrier in the Pacific, transporting goods to Hawaii, Guam, Micronesia, and some South Pacific islands. It also operates a service between China and Southern California.
The new ships will be built to meet Hawaii's "future freight demands with increased cargo capacity," said Matt Cox, Matson president and CEO. The investment "underscores Matson's long-term commitment to providing Hawaii with a strong, reliable lifeline to and from the U.S. mainland."
Aker is currently constructing two 115,000-ton crude-oil tankers for the ExxonMobil Corp. affiliate SeaRiver Maritime Inc. The ships will be delivered next year.
Also, Aker announced in August an agreement to build four, and potentially as many as eight, product tankers for Crowley Maritime Corp.
In 2011, Aker received $42 million from Pennsylvania taxpayers to construct two tankers, for which Aker had ordered parts but had no buyers. Without state money - and private construction financing that Aker secured - the yard might have shut operations. Aker later sold the two ships it built "on spec" to Crowley.