SWTD modernising its fleet to rein in pollution and improve revenue

Fleet of steel ferries to be replaced with seven catamaran ferries with fibre-reinforced plastic body

Published - May 09, 2022 10:54 pm IST - KOCHI

The Kerala State Water Transport Department (SWTD) is all set to replace its entire fleet of steel ferries in Ernakulam with seven catamaran ferries having fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) body by August, and all of them will be retrofitted with CNG kits in 2023.

The steel boats that operate here will be shifted to Alappuzha and Kollam, since the vessels are getting corroded fast due to proximity with the sea in Ernakulam. The agency’s solar cruise boat and second solar ferry too are getting ready for launch in a couple of months in Ernakulam and Alappuzha, considering the global acclaim that Aditya, its first solar ferry, won in 2020. A sum of ₹29 crore was allotted in this year’s budget to modernise its fleet and to augment safety measures.

“Retrofitting CNG kits in ferries that run on diesel is expected to cost ₹5.50 lakh per vessel. This would be followed by the replacement of at least 50% of our fleet with solar ferries in another five years. This is also commercially viable, since daily energy expense per ferry will come down to ₹500, as compared to over ₹9,000 for diesel,” said SWTD Director Shaji V. Nair.

All this is part of efforts that are under way to augment safety and comfort levels in the vessels and also to curb air and noise pollution. All the seven catamaran ferries that will be introduced in Ernakulam will conform to Indian Register of Shipping (IRS) norms. Capable of carrying 100 passengers, four such vessels were introduced during the past six months. The three others would be launched, at the rate of one every month, he added.

The infrastructure to maintain boats too is being augmented, as part of attaining self-reliance. A dry dock and slipway were readied in Alappuzha while trial runs of a slipway in Payyanur (to cater to boats operating in Kannur and Kasaragod) have been completed.

With income from fare collection hardly sufficient to attain break-even, the department is in the process of diversifying into tourism to woo guests from Alappuzha, Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Kannur and Kasaragod. “We find that patronage improved and the income from ferries more than doubled when they have food counters,” said Mr. Nair.

Fast ferry Vega-2 which can carry 120 passengers, including 40 in its AC cabin, was introduced in Alappuzha as a service linking scenic waterfront locales after the earlier ‘See Kuttanad’ cruise was a romping success. Similarly, a survey has been completed in Thiruvananthapuram for a 12-km tourist-cum-ferry service based at Veli. Food would be made available as part of the service, he added.

Stakeholders in the sector said the modernisation plans of the SWTD, while keeping fares at affordable levels, were a precursor to improving its service standards, in tandem with the introduction of the first batch of five Water Metro ferries in the Marine Drive-Vypeen-Bolghatty Island route.

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