KENDRAPARA: Four catamaran boats, gathering dust for about three years, have been handed over to the Tourism department for ferrying tourists between Gupti and Dangamala in Bhitarkanika National Park.
The eco-friendly vessels were bought in 2014 from Goa for around Rs 4 crore under Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZMP) to offer tourists a luxurious experience in the park. However, as the Forest department could not find trained crew to run the vessels, they were outsourced for Rs 4 lakh per annum to Kerala-based Samudra Shipyards Private Limited. They were operated till 2018.
The State government recently decided to hand the vessels over to the Tourism department and the catamarans are expected to be operated in the waters of the park soon. However, it is unclear how the Tourism department will find trained manpower to operate the vessels.
Each boat, which has the capacity to carry 20 tourists, has advanced safety features. “The vessels have been built to ensure safety of their occupants during tour of the mangrove forest in the park which is home to around 1,800 saltwater crocodiles,” said Bhitarkanika DFO JD Pati. Each boat has two bedrooms, balconies with comfortable seating, bathrooms, dining halls and kitchens. It is sort of a floating hotel for tourists wishing to get acquainted with the memorable sights of Bhitarkanika. The boat has solar lamps and fans with twin bedrooms, attached toilets and a galley.
“Beautiful water bodies with lush green mangrove forest along with crocodiles, birds, snakes and other animals are the assets of the park. One will be mesmerised by the picturesque beauty and serenity of the park while travelling in the luxury boats,” said the DFO. The most vital aspect of the vessels are that they do not cause air or noise pollution and are conducive to the environment and the flora and fauna of the park.
“Pollution-free and soundless boats are useful for tourists. It is also high time the authorities motivated other boat operators to use noiseless mechanised boats in the water bodies of Bhitarkanika,” said Hemant Rout, secretary of the Gahirmatha Marine Turtles and Mangrove Conservation Society. More than 40 mechanised boats operate in Bhitarkanika daily to ferry tourists. The boat owners use 9HP diesel engines with noise level going past 90 decibels.