It was meant to help cargo trailers avoid the congested roads of Kochi and instead sail smoothly to the International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT) at Vallarpadam. The roll-on/roll-off or RoRo service connecting Willingdon Island and Bolgatty in 30 minutes was greeted with much enthusiasm when it was launched by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) in 2021. Today, however, its attraction seems to be waning, mainly due to reduced cargo load from a subdued export demand.

Each of the two RoRo vessels deployed was designed to carry 15 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUS). Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) operates the service under a memorandum of understanding with IWAI.

The twin services had ferried nearly 73,000 TEUS until FY23, but a drop in cargo volumes forced authorities to discontinue the service of one vessel, says Mathew George, Director, IWAI. 

IWAI had invested ₹25 crore to procure the two RoRo vessels from Cochin Shipyard, besides constructing the RoRo jetties at Willingdon Island and Bolgatty.

Back then, container-laden trucks had to traverse across Kochi city to reach the Vallarpadam terminal. The shorter and faster RoRo connectivity found itself in demand. However, the subsequent construction of flyovers on the national highway at Kundannur, Vytilla and Palarivattom allowed trailers to bypass crowded roads to reach ICTT rapidly. Many of them shifted back to road movement to avoid the wait for the RoRo vessels at the jetty. The drop in export cargo further reduced the patronage for the RoRo service.

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PA Shamseer, All Container Carrier Owners Welfare Association, suggests extending the service to 14 hours instead of 12, to avoid unnecessary waiting. Currently the charges are ₹800 for 20-ft containers and ₹400 for trailers without cargo.

The beginnings of the RoRo service date back to 2011, when it was launched by a private shipping company. After moving nearly 2.5 lakh TEUS, it was discontinued six years later due to legal disputes.

Binu KS, president of Kerala Steamer Agents Association, says the single RoRo vessel makes 16 daily trips. With the right kind of support, the twin services can be restored profitably to move all cargo from, or to southern Kerala and decongest the national highway, he says.