Alappuzha: The roar and stink of diesel engines on Kerala’s backwaters is being fast replaced by the quiet hum of solar-powered propulsion. In a significant stride towards sustainable and cleaner energy, the Kerala State Water Transport Department (SWTD) plans to induct at least one solar boat in its fleet every month this year. And the drive will start with the launch of ‘Indra’, India’s largest Solar-Electric boat, in two weeks.
“The double-hull solar cruise boat, exclusively for tourist voyages, is expected to join the SWTD fleet within the next couple of weeks. The AC double-decker boat, the largest solar boat in the country, will have 100 seats along with Food Counter and Onboard Entertainment facilities. It will be deployed to operate cruise trips to the destinations on the sea-mouth such as Vypeen and Fort Kochi,” said Shaji V Nair, Director, SWTD.
The boat has been brought to Kochi, and the final work of the food counter is progressing. The cruise vessel, which can accommodate 100 passengers, has a specially-made “open-spaced” upper deck where the tourists can enjoy the alluring sceneries of the backwaters. “Indra will offer a three-hour long sail and is scheduled to operate twice daily, at 10.30 am and 3 pm. Since it operates on solar energy, the cost of operations will be much lesser and so will the ticket fares,” added Shaji V Nair.
Solar cruise delights
The preference for onboard food counters is not solely based on convenience but reflects the changing travel preferences. Tourists, weary of conventional dining options, are drawn to the allure of enjoying fresh and locally sourced meals while surrounded by the beauty of nature. “Vega, cruising the backwaters of Alleppey, which too has an onboard food counter, is having much demand among the tourists, which is one reason we decided to extend delectable onboard culinary offerings. The boat will have a cafeteria on the upper deck. There will be four tables, each having a capacity of eight people. We’ll be mainly offering delicacies and snacks,” he said.
The Kerala State Inland Water Navigation Corporation (KSINC) has already harnessed the trend, introducing onboard dining on its cruise service for tourists, and they are yielding good responses. “For instance, we offer fish curry, Fish Fry Meal, morning and evening tea, and snacks in the services along the Kochi-Palaikari route, covering the three districts of Ernakulam, Kottayam, and Alappuzha. The services using ‘Michelle’ and ‘Cleopatra’ boats are enjoying a good demand. The next trip is on January 26. The ticket is priced at Rs 999,” said a KSINC official.
“Similarly, we have restarted the cruise ship service ‘Nefertiti’ from January 13. It too has onboard dining and entertainment facilities and so does Sagar Rani, the cruise vessel operating the sun-set service,” the official added. SWTD aims to roll out one solar boat every month this year. Starting next month, the SWTD plans to induct at least one solar boat in its fleet every month. Works on these 14 IRS (Indian Registrar of Shipping) - class vessels, with varying passenger capacities, are currently progressing in different stages at private yards in Kochi.
The first of the two solar passenger boats to join the SWTD fleet are most likely to be deployed in the busy routes of Mohamma-Kumarakom and Vaikom-Thavanakkadavu. “The sector and schedule will be finalized based on a survey that will take into account different factors, including passenger demand,” they said. SWTD Director Shaji V Nair attributed the renewed focus on emission-free vessels to the response that the CM’s journey on board Aditya, the country’s first solar-powered ferry, generated within the state bureaucracy.
Last month, the CM sailed on board the solar boat to cross over the Vembanad Lake during his state-wide journey to hold the Navakerala Sadas. “The design and specifications of these vessels were finalized after analyzing the operation of the pilot project -- Adithya. Accordingly, some changes have been introduced in the overall designs and with the battery capacity to ensure adequate running time,” the official said.
Aditya, according to the SWTD officials, has sailed a distance of over one lakh kilometres and served over 10 lakh passengers within the first three years of its operation alone. It has helped the SWTD save diesel worth several lakhs, with the daily cost of operation remaining at a rock-bottom price of around Rs 250.