With the dual aim of connecting cities and reviving its fortunes in tourist arrivals, Kerala is kick-starting a cruise service. But it is no ordinary cruise service. In what is billed to be the first time in India, a hydrofoil ferry service is being planned to connect the two port cities of Kochi and Kozhikode. Hydrofoil boats are those that can attain great speeds, mainly due to a wing-like structure that lifts the hull of the boat and increases fuel efficiency. The origin of hydrofoil boats go as far as World War II and today, there are world-class passenger services that use such boats to connect cities.
In Kerala, the project that has been reported to sail off by Onam in September is being financed by a Dubai-based private firm and facilitated by the state government’s Department of Ports.
PI Sheikh Pareeth, the director of ports, confirmed the move and told IndianExpress.com that two second-hand air-conditioned boats, which used to ply in the Mediterranean Sea, have been brought from Athens in Greece for the service.
“The boats will travel at a speed of 30-40 knots between Beypore port in Kozhikode and Kochi. It would take around 3-4 hours to undertake the 150-kilometres journey,” said Pareeth.
Although the pricing has not been determined, a passenger could be charged between Rs 1000 and Rs 1500 for the trip, he added. The boats are reported to seat up to 130 passengers and will make two trips in a day, one in each direction. The service will only be available during daytime.
While the Kochi-Kozhikode service is phase one of the project, extending it to Vizhinjam port at the southern tip of state capital Thiruvananthapuram is the second phase which will take more time.
The cruise service could be seen as the government’s efforts to better utilise the state’s extensive water channels for transportation purposes. Currently, a bus or train journey from Kochi to Kozhikode, both of which are major urban centres in the state, take at least 5-6 hours. When there are traffic woes, the journey takes even longer time. The hydrofoil service could significantly cut down the journey time and offer an enjoyable journey at the same time. It is also an addition to the proposed water metro project in Kochi in which high-speed ferries will be used to connect nearby islands in the city in consonance with the Metro train service. Commuters could use the same passes essentially to flit in between the Metro train service and the ferry service. The project was planned by the earlier Oommen Chandy-led government and is being implemented by the new Pinarayi Vijayan government, voted into office after the state elections in May. Trials are currently being conducted on a section of the Kochi Metro and the service could be thrown open to the public by late this year or early next year.
At the same time, any enthusiasm regarding the hydrofoil service has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Commercial viability of such services have always concerned ruling governments although they most often fall into the trap of satisfying populist aims. Pareeth said the service will only be commercially viable if there is an upwards of 70 per cent passenger capacity. The fact that the state government is only facilitating it perhaps speaks volumes about the extent of its belief in the project. Another factor to ponder about is safety especially as the state has a history of water-related accidents. In 2009, 45 people died when a passenger boat overturned in the Thekkady lake. In 2007, in a similar boat tragedy, more than a dozen children on a school trip were killed. The current regime has promised to keep safety standards for the hydrofoil service.
For a state that’s desperately trying to rejuvenate tourist footfalls, the cruise service could prove to be a significant instrument. According to a 2014 report, Kerala does not figure at all in the top 10 positions of domestic tourist footfall, while the state is seventh on the list of foreign tourist footfall. A little more than 9 lakh people from foreign countries are reported to have visited the state in 2014. Thus, the sprawling backwaters of Aleppey and the vast Arabian Sea on the coast of which Kochi sits provides ample potential for the state to explore tourist opportunities. Rather than taking the expensive option of flying to Kozhikode or the troublesome journey on bus, tourists would find the cruise service a much better and appealing option. Plus, it’s easy on the pockets.