On October 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the first phase of a roll on-roll off ferry service between Ghogha in Saurashtra’s Bhavnagar district and Dahej in Bharuch district, separated by 31 km of water of the Gulf of Khambhat. “Ferry service is a first of sorts. It’s a dream come true for people of Gujarat,” the official handle of the PMO tweeted. In a statement issued to congratulate the Gujarat Maritime Board, Essar Projects, the principal EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction) contractor for the project, described the service as “India’s first Ro-Ro ferry project”.
Once fully operational, the ferry is expected to bring down the travel time between Ghogha and Dahej, 340 km by road, from seven hours to two-and-a-half — and this will include the time it takes to drive from Ghogha to Bhavnagar and from Dahej to Bharuch, the two big cities closest to the ports on the two sides of the gulf. The ferry will carry about 500 passengers and 100-150 vehicles (cars, buses and trucks) on each trip, and is expected to make four round trips every day, according to the Essar release.
While this is likely to make Gujarat’s ro-ro service (as opposed to so-called lo-lo services in which vehicles can’t roll on and roll off the boat, but are lifted on and off by a crane) the biggest in the country, the concept, in its essentials, is already in operation at several places, and more are planned. Four prominent examples:
Two ro-ro vessels manufactured by Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), each worth Rs 3.8 crore, were handed over to the Kochi Corporation before July this year for a service between Fort Kochi and Vypeen across Vembanad Lake. Two jankar (from the Chinese ‘junk’; motorised barges that can carry vehicles) services and a passenger ferry currently ply on this route. Ro-ro services have not, however, begun due to a delay in the construction of the mooring terminal at Fort Kochi.
According to CSL officials, once commercial services begin, each ro-ro ferry will be able to carry 12 cars and three trucks (or 18 cars), along with 50 passengers.
Also, between February 2011 and May 2017, the Cochin Port Trust, along with the Kochi-based shipping firm LOTS Shipping Limited, operated a ro-ro barge service to carry container lorries to and from the Vallarpadam International Container Transshipment Terminal. The service, which was launched to decongest Kochi’s roads and to ensure faster movement of containers, was discontinued following a dispute between CPT and LOTS over the payment of security deposit. The ro-ro barge, which could carry 21 containers of twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) size, is currently lying idle.
A state of the art ro-ro vessel procured by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) was launched on July 1 for operations between Dhubri and Hatsingimari on opposite banks of the Brahmaputra in western Assam, cutting down some 220 km of circuitous travel distance via the Jogighopa-Pancharatna Naranarayan Setu to just a 29-km voyage across the mighty river. The link between the Brahmaputra’s northern and southern banks has also made goods and passenger movement to the Garo Hills region of western Meghalaya easier and faster.
The ro-ro vessel, built at a cost of Rs 10 crore and named MV Gopinath Bordoloi after the first Chief Minister of Assam, can transport eight loaded trucks and 100 passengers at a time. IWAI built Dhubri’s new ro-ro terminal at a cost of Rs 46 crore. Dhubri, the last city on the Brahmaputra before the river enters Bangladesh, was a major river port until 1971, when inland water transport from Kolkata to Assam through erstwhile East Pakistan was stopped.
VIJAYAWADA, Andhra Pradesh
A private company has been running a ferry service across the Krishna river near Vijayawada since the 1970s. At 10.30 am every day, the small, two-deck, 100-foot ferry sputters across the river from Vijayawada to Lingaiahpalem village on the south bank near Thulluru in Guntur district. Motorcycles are parked on the top tier, while passengers, along with a cargo of fruits and vegetables, occupy the bottom tier. From Lingaiahpalem, the ferry moves on to Ibrahimpatnam, the site of a farmers’ market 15 km from Vijayawada. It is a small operation that takes very little time; bikes are rolled on and off on a plank, and the service is popular with the people of Thulluru who prefer it to the 25-km ride through traffic-choked Vijayawada.
The state runs a free ferry service between Panaji and Betim on the opposite bank of the Mandovi river. Several cars and two-wheelers can roll up on board at a time, along with passengers. There is a old proposal to increase the scale and frequency of the operation, working with experts and specialised partners, and upgrading the jetties, both on the Mandovi and on the Zuari river to its south.
Click Here for a detailed explainer on the Ghogha-Dahej ro-ro service by Gopal Kateshiya and Avinash Nair.