Close on the heels of operating India’s first solar-powered ferry, the State Water Transport Department (SWTD) has sought Central subsidy to procure 10 more solar-powered catamaran-type ferries for use in Kochi and Alappuzha.
The successful operation of the 75-seater ferry introduced a month ago in the Vaikom-Thavanakadavu route has given impetus to the demand for solar-powered ferries in numerous other routes. The Centre gave 50 per cent subsidy for the vessel that cost approximately ₹2 crore.
‘‘Transport Minister A.K. Saseendran has written to Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy seeking 50 per cent subsidy to purchase 10 similar vessels. The normal subsidy is 30%. The Centre has given in-principle approval for the proposal. Considering the successful operation of the first ferry, we are simultaneously making efforts to get 100% subsidy for the vessels proposed,’’ said Shaji V. Nair, Director, SWTD.
Changes could be incorporated in design, considering the difference in condition of waterbodies in Kochi and Alappuzha, he said. There is acute paucity of ferries in both Kochi and Alappuzha.
The department would float tenders in March for another 10 catamaran-type vessels which will be procured using State funds.
A technical committee is in the last lap of finalising tender specifications for the ferries which were expected to join the SWTD fleet. The specifications include the solar-powered option, considering the negligible operating cost, Mr. Nair said.
Two partly air-conditioned ferries are under construction at two private yards at Aroor. They would shortly join the SWTD’s fleet, to be operated in the Vaikom-Ernakulam and Alappuzha-Kumarakom routes.
Speaking about advantages of solar-powered vessels, Sandith Thandasherry, MD of Navalt, the firm that built solar ferry Aditya, said the daily operating cost was just ₹200 (equivalent to 20 units of power) as compared to ₹8,000 for conventional ferries. This works out to savings of approximately ₹2.5 lakh per vessel per month.
Moreover, the solar ferry is much more stable than regular ferries operated by SWTD since it has twin hulls (and hence catamaran-type) and weighs 17 tonnes as compared to 35 tonnes of other ferries. The solar ferry is built as per Indian Registry of Shipping (IRS) specifications, unlike steel ferries, he said.
In the meantime, the team probing the sabotage attempt on the solar ferry deployed underwater cameras on Friday to capture visuals of its twin rudder plates.
While all 12 nuts of one plate were found missing over a fortnight ago, the other plate had only one nut intact, as the ferry began its first trip.
The visuals would be handed over to officials of IRS, Ports Department, and police forensic team, official sources said.