C. Bradley Mulholland has been promoted to president of Matson Navigation Co., Hawaii's dominant shipping line, it was announced late last week.

Mr. Mulholland, 48 years old, most recently served as executive vice president and chief operating officer. He was named executive vice president of the company in 1987 and was promoted to chief operating officer last July with the departure of Michael S. Wasacz.Mr. Mulholland, who first joined the company in 1965, has held executive positions in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. He now will be responsible for overseeing all operations of Matson and its subsidiary companies.

However, R.J. Pfeiffer, chairman and chief executive of Matson's parent company, Alexander & Baldwin Inc., will remain Matson's chairman and chief executive. Mr. Pfeiffer has always taken a strong and active role in the running of Matson Navigation, A&B's largest revenue producer.

In recent months, since Mr. Mulholland was named chief operating officer, Matson has embarked on an ambitious capital spending program.

Players in the trade have been working to better position themselves given the possibility that American President Lines Ltd. might soon gain access to the Hawaii market.

APL first asked for permission to enter the trade in 1987, and the issue is under review by the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Last August, Matson acquired the Kaimoku from Crowley Maritime Corp. for an estimated $35 million including modifications. This vessel, formerly the Atlantic Spirit, is a 13-year-old roll-on roll-off vessel with a service speed of 22 knots.

In February, Matson then announced it would build a new $129 million, diesel-powered containership at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. in San Diego. "This is a very big move," Mr. Mulholland said at the time.

This news followed reports Matson might have been interested in building more than one new ship, although it appeared used ships acquisitions would

allow it to limit construction to a single vessel.

Within a matter of days, the company then said it would buy the Caguas from the Puerto Rico Maritime Shipping Authority for $37.6 million. The Caguas, a 791-foot roll-on vessel is a sistership of the Kaimoku.

Finally, in March the company announced a $16 million order for three new container cranes for use at the company's Sand Island Terminal in Honolulu. These are being built by Italy-based Magrini Galileo Meccanica and are scheduled for delivery by June 1991.

Sea-Land Service Inc. reportedly has also been looking at different options to upgrade its service to Hawaii. Meanwhile, Crowley recently moved to drop its Hawaiian Marine Lines service to the islands citing the increased competition.