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mid-day's 42nd anniversary: Let the good times Roll on, Roll Off

Updated on: 23 July,2021 09:24 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Hemal Ashar |

The service Mumbai2Mandwa (M2M) has had a ferry tale run as Alibaug became pandemic’s go-to getaway

mid-day's 42nd anniversary: Let the good times Roll on, Roll Off

Business partners Devika Saigal Kapoor, Aashim Mongia, with the RORO, believe in sailing on turbulent waters. Pic/Suresh Karkera

M2M Ferries Pvt. Ltd. Aashim Mongia, 51, and Devika Saigal Kapoor, 30

They brought a vessel from Greece that can carry 900 people and 140 cars to launch a water transportation venture

When business partners Aashim Mongia and Devika Saigal Kapoor won the government tender for the Roll On, Roll Off (RORO) service from Mumbai to Mandwa (Alibaug), the rejoicing was short-lived. The ship started sailing from Greece and into India in February. The launch took place in March 2020 but with Coronavirus throwing its shadow over India just then, it was start ‘n’ stutter time.

Mongia, director at Mumbai2Mandwa (M2M) Ferries Pvt Ltd, said, “We thought what bad luck, how unfortunate this timing.” As the Ropax double-ended vessel, which means it has ramps on both sides, remained stationary, Saigal, director, M2M, said, “There was trepidation. It was upsetting as this was a huge project that had entailed considerable investment.” The 10-mile crossing from Ferry Wharf, Mumbai, to Mandwa seemed longer than the 4,700 miles that the ship had sailed from Greece on its own power, which means it was not brought on another vessel, into India.

The directors did not know as yet that the start of RORO’s adversity-presents-opportunity story was just beginning. As the Cyclone Nisarg screamed across the region mid last year, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, the mint new RORO was pressed into service. The ship carried the Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his entourage to the Konkan region in June 2020, as the CM wanted to witness the havoc that Nisarg had wreaked. “That was an important trip,” said Saigal, 30, and Mongia, 51. “There was a surge in confidence” and post the initial lockdown, the RORO started sailing in August 2020.

There were several factors working for the service. First up, said the directors, “Absolute safety protocols were and are being followed on the ship. With a capacity for 900 people, we carry 500. The vessel can carry 140 cars. That was another thing going for it, people felt safe in their own vehicle. They were socially distanced, and in their cars, with people they knew. Third was that Alibaug, a hip destination for Mumbai’s high rollers for a couple of years now, topped the charts as the go-to getaway during lockdown.”

“We saw a unique phenomenon during this pandemic. A lot of second homes became first homes for people with Work From Home (WFM) changing the corporate paradigm completely,” said Mongia.  “We also saw an uptick in domestic tourism as the first wave seemed to be petering out. Anywhere close to home seemed to be safe as the lockdown horror stories made people wary of being stranded too far away and of course, not too many flights were operational,” added Saigal.

The RORO seemed to be hitting the high-water mark, but then came the Coronavirus second wave, knocked the wind out of the sails of the vessel, literally. Mongia said though that they continued to sail daily, with Saigal adding, “now, weekends are good business, the weekdays have to pick up”. Mongia and Saigal agree that the RORO has been a breakthrough and may change the contours of the water transportation landscape in the country.

They are optimistic, although Saigal added, “there is great uncertainty”. Mongia added, “There are too many moving targets.” Of the future, Saigal said, “We look forward to tourists from across the country and foreigners too, using the RORO when the country and the world opens up completely.” Though used loosely at times, in this case the RORO has truly earned the epithet of ‘game changer’.

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