Less than two months after Ro-Pax service was inaugurated in Gujarat, a Surat-based firm that operates a 2,559 tonne vessel across the Gulf of Khambhat, wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Chief Ministers’ Office (CMO), expressing inability to continue operations if “regular dredging” is not carried out.
“We have written both to the CMO and the PMO as the dredging depths are going down and there are no dredgers available. It is a major issue for all of us. We have written that if dredging is not done then we will be compelled to stop the service. We cannot take risk,” Chetan Contractor, chairman and managing director of Indigo Seaways Pvt Ltd that manages and operates the Ro-Pax ferry “Voyage Symphony” told The Indian Express on Friday.
The letter was sent about five days ago.
Why Gulf of Khambhat is an issue
Gulf of Khambhat or Gulf of Cambay witnesses high tidal variations ranging up to 11-12 meters. The ports located in the Gulf suffer from heavy silting caused by strong tidal currents and rivers carrying silt like Sabarmati, Mahi, Narmada and Tapi. On top of it, the Ro-Pax ferry operator has also complained of “plastic pollution” in the Gulf, posing a hazard for the ferry service.
The firm currently operates two round-trips across the Gulf of Khambhat between Gogha in Bhavnagar and Dahej in Bharuch district. Contractor claimed that GMB (Gujarat Maritime Board) was in charge of the dredging activities.
“They had outsourced the dredging to private firms, who have now pulled backed the dredgers,” he said, adding that the company requires a draft of five meters to smoothly operate the vessel.
“Currently the depth available is between 2.5 and 3 meters. In two or three places on the route, continuous dredging is required, like near the Reliance Jetty in Dahej, mouth of the channel in Dahej and the turning circle at Ghogha,” Contractor pointed out, saying that lack of depth had recently caused the ferry to stall mid-sea after mud and a piece of plastic got sucked into one of its pipes supplying sea water for cooling vital parts of the vessel.
“Recently the service had to be stopped for 21 days. We incurred an expenditure of Rs 1.5 crore (in repairing the vessel). Who will pay us?” he asked.
Contractor also pointed out that the people have lost confidence in the service after it resumed operations on December 14.
“People have lost confidence in the service. The truck traffic that we had built up after the launch has disappeared. Now the truckers want a back-up plan in case the service gets stalled,” Contractor said, adding that the passenger occupancy of Ro-Pax ferry has been reduced to 27 per cent from the 57 per cent that existed at the beginning of November.
Before the Gujarat Assembly elections, the first Ro-Ro service operated by the same company was flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October, 2017 across the Gulf of Khambhat. A year later, the firm procured a Ro-Pax vessel from South Korea, which was flagged off by Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in October, 2018.
Contractor also claimed that the GMB has asked the company to work during “high-tides” to solve the issue about depth. “That is not acceptable to us,” he added.
When contacted about the letter, Mukesh Kumar, vice-chairman and CEO of Gujarat Maritime Board, said, “I am not aware of the letter. No such letter has come to us.”
Other officials of GMB who were in Mumbai to attract investments for the upcoming Vibrant Gujarat Summit said that the Ro-Pax operator has raised the issue of dredging in the past with GMB.