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Buoyed by the global acclaim that its solar-powered ferry that operates from Vaikom won, the Kerala State Water Transport Department (KSWTD) is readying to launch its air-conditioned, solar-powered 100-passenger backwater cruise vessel in Kochi in April.

The double-decker vessel, christened ‘Solar Cruiser’, got the mandatory Indian Register of Shipping (IRS) approval recently. “Guests will be able to enjoy the cruise from the lower deck, while meetings and events can be hosted on the upper deck. It will provide guests with an affordable, non-polluting cruise experience from Marine Drive in the city, in a backwater cruise sector which is dominated by fossil fuel-powered private boats which levy varying tariffs and offer different qualities of service,” said Shaji V. Nair, SWTD Director.

It will be the first time in the country that such a big vessel fully powered by solar energy is being introduced in the tourism sector. The 24-m long, 7-metre-wide vessel will have push-back seats, Mr. Nair added. It can store 100 Kw power, vis a vis Aditya, the 75-seater solar ferry that can store 80 kW. This makes it apt for longer cruises, including at night. The commissioning of Solar Cruiser in April will coincide with the expected commissioning of the first batch of five Water Metro ferries by Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL).

“The Solar Cruiser will be able to carry a total of 100 guests, although there are seats for 100 people since it is a catamaran [has double hull] and is thus very safe. Its trial run will be conducted in March, followed by the launch in April,” said Sandith Thandassery, the CEO of Navalt, a joint venture of two French companies and a Kochi-based company, which is constructing the vessel at its yard in Aroor.

The SWTD made its foray into the tourism sector by launching among others, Vega-120 – a pair of fast boats – which can accommodate 80 people in the non-AC section and 40 in its AC portion, on the Alappuzha-Kumarakom route. Its tariff is ₹400 and ₹600 for the AC space. Lunch and tea are provided by Kudumbashree personnel at ₹100.

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