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July 25, 2005

Japan pulls plug on Techno Superliner

Japan's Construction and Transport Ministry and the Tokyo metropolitan government will abandon plans to put the Techno Superliner, built with 11.5 billion yen in public money, in service between Tokyo and Chichijima in the Ogasawara Islands Japan's Daily Yomiuri reports, The problem lies in "huge predicted operating deficits," sources told the newspaper.

The TSL, which is nearing completion at Mitsui's Tamano Works, is most likely to be scrapped without entering commercial operations as the ministry and the metropolitan government concluded that they could not subsidize its operations.

This is actually one of several TSL designs developed under a program that dates back to 1989. The aim of the program was to get traffic off Japan's crowded road systems.

The Mitsui TSL has a gross tonnage of about 14,500 tons and dimensions of about 140 m x 29.8 m. It is an air cushion vessel with twin aluminum hulls and propulsion is by twin aeroderivative marine gas turbines powering twin waterjets. Four sets oif high speed diesels power the air cushion lift fans.

Maximum speed is about 38 knots, passenger capacity 742 persons and cargo payload 210 tons.

The plan was to operate between Tokyo and Ogasawara, cutting the journey time from the present 25 hours to 16-17 hours.

What has killed the project is rising fuel prices.

According to the Daily Yomiuri report, Ogasawara Kaiun, a shipping firm jointly owned by Nippon Yusen K.K. and Tokai Kisen Co., announced the cancellation of the ship's lease contract with Techno Seaways, the government-backed company owning the TSL, in June.Ogasawara Kaiun said that the ship would lose 2 billion yen (about $18 million) a year due to soaring fuel prices resulting from high oil prices since last summer.

There have apparently been efforts to find another customer and the vessel has been offered to the military and to middle east countries without success.

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