Facing losses, Gujarat-based Ro-Ro ferry operator in the Gulf of Khambhat has put up for sale the vessel that Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode in October 2017 while inaugurating the Roll-on, Roll-off (Ro-Ro) ferry service between Bhavnagar’s Ghogha and Bharuch’s Dahej ports.
The services of the vessel, Island Jade, and another vessel, Voyage Symphony, were suspended in September this year as enough draft was not available to run the vessel.
“There is no motivation to continue operating the service in Gulf of Khambhat. We are clocking losses and it is only a matter of time when we might run into bankruptcy. We have already put out an advertisement and we plan to sell Island Jade within a month,” said Chetan Contractor, head of Indigo Seaways, which operates the ferry service in the Gulf of Khambhat under the brand name DG Sea Connect.
At present, the company has two ferries — Island Jade and Voyage Symphony — being used by the operator to bridge the 31 km between Ghogha and Dahej through the sea. The land route between the two destinations takes about 8 hours to cover 360 kilometres. Island Jade was brought from Singapore to launch the Ro-Ro service in October 2017 ahead of the Gujarat Assembly elections.
While inaugurating the service two years ago, PM Modi said that it was an “invaluable gift” and “first-of-its-kind service in India and the biggest in South Asia,” which would bring back “glory days” to the Bhavnagar coast.
“This was the same vessel that the PM used to inaugurate the service... However, as the company is running into losses, the owners decided to sell it though reluctantly,” said a senior official of Indigo Seaways, requesting anonymity. The company is spending around Rs 18 lakh per month in maintaining the crew and the ferries.
“Despite operating the service for over a year, the state government failed to provide last-mile connectivity to passengers at Ghogha and Dahej. In the absence of any conveyance to reach to these two terminals, most people started bringing their own vehicles and that is how most of the traffic shifted to Voyage Symphony from Island Jade,” the official added.
While the ferry ‘Island Jade’ is up for sale, there is no ferry service across the Gulf of Khambhat as the second ferry, Voyage Symphony, has been anchored at Ghogha for two months. The service between Ghogha and Dahej remains suspended ever since the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) — state government’s nodal agency for port operations — said on September 23, 2019 that heavy siltation from an over-flowing Sardar Sarovar Dam on river Narmada forced the operators to discontinue service in the Gulf of Khambat. The website of DG Seaconnect for passenger bookings states, “Due to non-availability of sufficient depth of water at Dahej, ferry services would remain suspended till December 7, 2019.”
The ferry operators said that for the past one year, the GMB has not been able to provide the required five-metre draft in the navigation channels and the place where the ferry takes a U-turn, especially at Dahej.
Mukesh Kumar, vice-chairman and Chief Operating Officer of GMB said, “The turning circle is a major challenge as siltation still continues.”
The GMB has employed dredges from the Adani Port and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ) for the purpose and expects to achieve the required depth in the next couple of weeks. Against an annual estimate of Rs 20 crore in dredging work, the GMB has already spent Rs 49 crore so far and with this campaign, the expenditure may reach up to Rs 80 crore, stated a note shared by Kumar.