During his visit to Gujarat, ahead of the Assembly elections due later this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the Phase 1 of the Ro-Ro (Roll on, Roll off) ferry service between Ghogha and Dahej on 22 October.
In case you’re wondering, a Ro-Ro ferry helps transport vehicles – including heavy vehicles like trucks and tractors – by allowing them to drive off and on board the vessel. As the The Indian Express states, the Ro-Ro ferry is distinct from the Lo-Lo (lift-on and lift-off) vessels, which make use of cranes to load cargo.
There are plans to extend the service to Mumbai, PM Modi said, as he flagged off the ferry. "Since I was a child I was hearing about a ferry service from Ghogha to Dahej. It was not done all these years because development was never a priority for them," the PMO tweeted after it was launched.
Not a New Concept
We’ve seen versions of the Ro-Ro ferry in a number of states over the years. In February 2016, the BJP government in Assam inaugurated the Ro-Ro ferry between Dhubri and Hatsingimari in Assam.
In June this year, the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) announced the successful trial of a Rs 10-crore Ro-Ro vessel in Assam can ferry eight trucks and approximately 100 passengers, The Indian Express reported.
Other larger projects that have been recently unveiled include Odisha’s Ro-Ro ferry service across the river Saveri in Motu. The Malyabanta ferry, which can carry two vehicles with passengers, was built at a cost of Rs 25 lakh and unveiled in July, OrrisaDiary reported.
Also in July, the Cochin Shipyard Limited delivered two Ro-Ro vessels – designed to accommodate 18 cars besides 50 passengers or 12 cars along with four 10 tonne trucks in addition to 50 passengers, as The Hindu reported. However, The New Indian Express reports that these two large Ro-Ro vessels have run into a roadblock over issues pertaining to docking and price hikes.
BJP IT head Amit Malviya called the ferry in Gujarat the “first of its kind in India”.
Twitterati Scratch Heads at Ro-Ro Ferry
Twitter wasn't too pleased at the hype, however, with several Indian users pointing out they'd been using Ro-Ro ferries for years:
“First of its Kind” in South Asia?
If this report in China Daily is to be believed, then the Bohai Mazhu, which can ferry 800 passengers and 150 vehicles, is the largest Ro-Ro of its kind in South Asia. How does the Gujarat project hold up?
In the first phase, the Gujarat ferry can carry around 250 passengers. According to reports, it will be able to transport over 100-150 vehicles once phase two is complete.
Essar Projects, the EPC arm of Essar Group that designed and built the Gujarat Ro-Ro ferry, said it would reduce travel time from 7 hours to 2.5 hours. The project "will stand up to extreme tidal variations and inhospitable weather conditions, as also enable South Asia's first truly world-class Ro-Ro ferry service," Outlook quoted EPC Constructions India CEO Shailesh Sawa as saying.
The project, funded by the Gujarat government under the larger Sagarmala initiative to connect waterways, costs Rs 614 crore, The Indian Express reported. “It is a landmark project in the entire South-East Asian region because it is the first of its kind service. It will reduce the fuel consumption to a great extent and will reduce the traffic congestion on the important national highways," PM Modi said at the launch.
But will it prove to be the “gamechanger” it is being hailed to be? Or will it go the way of Santa Maria – the 160-metre long Ro-Ro ship that was beached in May 2016 after only 18 voyages? Bangalore Mirror reports that the vessel, which could carry 150 loaded trucks and 210 cars, failed to find any takers.
We may have to wait for the Gujarat ferry to become completely operational before drawing a conclusion. But while we wait, here's a look at a few of the several ferries, big and small, around the country that help keep India on the move.