Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the Rs 600 crore roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) Ghogha-Dahej ferry service as the first of its kind, not only for India but also for Southeast Asia, while inaugurating the project during his recent visit to Gujarat.
This surprised many as RoRo vessels are already being used by companies to move cars, coal and fertiliser across the country. All key ports in the country provide RoRo shipping service.
The only difference is that the Ghogha-Dahej route carries passenger traffic too, unlike others which are exclusively being used for transporting goods. However, even here, much smaller ferries in Goa, Kerala and Andaman transport passengers too. In Maharashtra, ferry services are available between Alibaug and Mumbai (Gateway of India). In fact, the fastest and cheapest way to travel between the two places is ferry.
The ferry service between Ferry Wharf or Bhaucha Dhakka in Mumbai and Panjim in Goa was operational as far back as 1970s. The service was discontinued during Indian peace-keeping mission in Sri Lanka when ferries were diverted for carrying Indian troops to the war-zone. The Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) and Goa Port Trust are again coming together to resume the ferry service which will have stoppages at Dighi in Raigad district, Dabhol and Jaigad in Ratnagiri district, Vijay Durg and Malvan too.
The Vizag-Kakinda sea cruise was planned as far back as 2003. It is another matter it got shelved later. In July 2015, the Andhra Pradesh government decided to revive the project to give a boost to the state tourism.
When it comes to India Inc, these type of ferries have become increasingly common over the last few years For example, Hyundai Motor uses RoRo vessels to ships its cars across India to save cost and reduce carbon footprint. In February 2016, Hyundai had sent 800 cars from its Sriperumbudur plant through RoRo vessel IDM Symex to Pipavav port in Gujarat via Chennai port.
It usually takes three to four days for the car manufacturer to move vehicles from the production centres near Chennai to Gujarat through trailers.
Vessel owner Symex Maritime has been granted permission by the Directorate General of Shipping to carry out coastal run for five years. The RoRo vessel, IDM Symex, is to be used to transport cars manufactured mainly by Hyundai and other manufacturers.
Maruti Suzuki too uses 1,275 km-long Varansi-Haldia waterway to transport Alto and Celerio cars. This is meant to reduce dependence on road and rail and also cut fuel costs.
The company first moves the cars by road from its Gurgaon factory to Varanasi, where they are put on the Ro-Ro vessel and transported to Haldia. It takes one and a half to two days to move the cars by road from Gurgaon to Varanasi and the journey from Varanasi to Haldia takes another seven days.
NTPC transports its imported coal consignments from Sandheads deep-sea port, 200 km off Kolkata, to its Farakka power plant in the state through the 1,600-km Haldia-Allahabad national waterway. The PSU started using this mode for coal transportation to the plant from October 2013 to overcome shortage of rail rakes.
Gujarat Pipavav Port started its RoRo service for automobile cargo in August 2015 and now it plans to triple its handling capacity to 300,000 cars by 2020.
Shipping companies are increasingly entering the RoRo segment to offset weakness in core shipping segments, such as bulk cargo, said analysts.
According to a recent study by the World Bank, Inland waterway transportation was in vogue in India before the arrival of railways. The Ganga river used to be a busy waterway until a hundred years ago before it fell into disuse after trains became a favoured mode of transporting goods and passengers.
In September last year, the ministry of shipping doubled the discount to 80% for two years on vessel and coastal related charges to promote RoRo shipping.
The incentive was meant to attract more automobile cargo through the coastal route and decongest the already congested roads and railways, besides making the Ro-Ro ship service operations more sustainable.
RoRo services are used in other parts of Southeast Asia as well. In Malaysia, RoRo ferries have been running since 2013, and in April this year, a RoRo service was launched between Indonesia and Philippines.
Noor Mohammad is a financial journalist.