What started as a good tourist experience on Rota for Japanese businessman Takahisa Yamamoto and his son turned into an opportunity to help the local economy a dozen years later by investing a minimum of $1.6 million in a retrofitted cargo and passenger ship that will bring passengers, agricultural goods, and other consumer items to and from Rota, Saipan, Tinian, the Northern Islands, and Guam as early as November this year.
Yamamoto, from Osaka, Japan, owns Luta Mermaid LLC, the main business of which is to operate a cargo and passenger ship named M/V Luta.
“Luta” is other name for “Rota,” where the cargo ship will be home-ported.
Right now, the 150-ft. long, 500-ton cargo ship is in Louisiana awaiting a certificate of inspection from the U.S. Coast Guard.
But Fidel Mendiola Jr., who oversees the operation, said the U.S. Coast Guard certificate of inspection could be obtained by middle of September.
The ship can accommodate 18 passengers and can carry up to 28 20-ft. containers.
Senate Vice President Victor Hocog (R-Rota), who has helped Yamamoto realize his plan to further develop Rota, said having a cargo ship home-ported on Rota will reduce freight costs and therefore lower the price of commodities.
Hocog said the company plans to provide farmers initial free freight costs to Guam “to realize more of their profits.”
The senator said this cargo ship will also be the “answer” to Rota’s longstanding problem of food and other commodities shortage every time barges cannot go into the port because of rough seas; the last crisis was from November 2013 to February 2014.
“This ship is able to move even if it’s tropical depression (condition). It can go into the channel. It is equipped with two bow thrusters,” Hocog said, adding that the cargo ship will be using Rota’s West Harbor.
Yamamoto, along with Mendiola and Hocog, met with Gov. Eloy S. Inos on Friday morning to let the governor know of the status of the company’s business plans.
Once the U.S. Coast Guard grants a certificate of inspection, M/V Luta could leave a Louisiana port by late September for a 45-day voyage that would take it to the Panama Canal and on to Rota. If all goes well as planned, the cargo ship could be on Rota by November or weeks before the holidays.
In an interview at the Senate on Friday, Yamamoto said he and his son came to Rota as tourists, specifically to go scuba diving, some 12 years ago. He said he loved the place and its people.
“It was really a good memory for me,” Yamamoto said.
Last year, he said he came back and had a chance meeting with Hocog and the Rota mayor. He said he discussed with the Rota officials ways they can further develop the island. Yamamoto has a degree in agriculture so the idea of transporting agricultural products didn’t come as a surprise.
After all, Hocog said, “shipping is one of the backbones for economic revitalization.”
Luta Mermaid LLC has already complied with other requirements to operate in the CNMI and Guam a cargo and passenger ship, according to Mendiola and Hocog. These include a Homeland Security background check.