Less than two years after Kerala launched its first solar-powered passenger ferry, another landmark moment in the state’s water transport is around the corner. This Sunday, Vega 120 – the state’s fastest inland ferry which will also be partly-airconditioned – will set sail between Vaikkom and Ernakulam, spanning three districts.
Owned and operated by the State Water Transport Department (SWTD), the ferry will traverse the 35-km distance between Vaikkom and Ernakulam through the beautiful national waterway II, past swaying coconut trees and lagoons, in 90 minutes – less than the two-hour timeframe of the buses on the same route. The ferry will be a much-needed fillip for office commuters from Vaikkom in Kottayam district who work in Kochi. A total of 120 passengers can travel aboard the ferry at a time, 40 in the AC cabin and 80 in the non-AC cabin.
The SWTD, which handles commercial passenger ferry operations in the state, has fixed ticket rates at Rs 40 in the non-AC cabin and Rs 80 in the AC cabin for a one-way trip.
Sandith Thandassery, CEO of Navgathi, the firm that built and designed Vega 120, told indianexpress.com that the ferry will save the SWTD a lot of money because of its ‘fuel-efficiency.’
“There’s no such ferry with SWTD that can carry more than 100 passengers and moves at 25 km/hr. So there’s no comparison. But if we compare with ferries in other states with the same capacity, Vega 120 has 40% lower fuel-consumption. While other ferries use 500 hp engines to get the same speed, we are using a 340 hp engine. The underwater shape and design of the hull is similar to Aditya, the solar ferry,” said Thandassery.
“In terms of fuel, Vega 120 will help the SWTD save about 200 litres of diesel in a day. That’s also why they are able to price the tickets closer to what the buses charge,” he added.
Vega 120 is set to be inaugurated by Finance Minister Thomas Isaac on Sunday and will make its first trip from Vaikkom to Ernakulam in the morning. As per initial schedule, it will leave Vaikkom at 7.30 am reaching Ernakulam at 9 am and is bound to return from Ernakulam at 5.30 pm, reaching Vaikkom at 7 pm. During the day, the ferry will make short trips on the Ernakulam-Island-Fort Kochi route.
The 25m catamaran ferry has been built using marine grade glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) in the span of a year. The first long-distance inland ferry in Kerala, it aligns closely with the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s ambitious plan to open up the state’s inland water channels to passenger ferries and tourist boats.
There’s a general feeling within the administration that the national waterways that criss-cross through Kerala hold immense potential for water transport, which can also help in easing pressure on already-clogged roads and national highways. But the poor finances of the SWTD and the absence of infrastructure in the form of modern jetties have been hurdles in that direction. A unique high-speed hydrofoil cruise service connecting the port cities of Kochi and Kozhikode, announced in 2016, still remains on paper.
But what offers great hope for the sector is the proposed launch of the Kochi Water Metro system in 2019 that aims to connect nearly 38 jetties in the Greater Kochi area with modern air-conditioned, WiFi-enabled catamaran ferries. The system will also be a feeder for the existing metro rail project in the city.