Why this Mumbai female entrepreneur is betting big on Indian waterways
A road trip from Mumbai to Mandwa, a port village nearly 100 km away, can take around three hours or more, depending on traffic. But what if the travel time is reduced to one hour and the distance to only 19 km?
M2M ferries, Maharashtra’s first Ro-Pax ferry service makes it a reality. It operates cost-effective RoRo (roll-on, roll-off) ferry services between Ferry Wharf (Mumbai) and Mandwa Jetty (Raigad) seven days a week, in partnership with Maharashtra Maritime Board and Mumbai Port Trust.
For eight years, Devika SaigalCEO of M2M Ferries and Mandwa Jetty, has worked to redefine Mumbai’s waterways and develop terminals and facilities to facilitate coastal passenger travel.
“About 10 years ago, the port of Mandwa had only two shops. The government wanted to start a pilot project and asked interested parties to come forward and build the jetty. We jumped on it! There are so many waterfronts around the world, and there is always something to do there,” says Devika, who holds a Masters in International Management from the University of Bath. She says His history that his family runs Esquire Shipping and Trading Pvt Ltd, a freight management company.
Mandwa port facelift
For a long time, the Mandwa village pier was only used by people traveling to Alibaug, the headquarters of Raigad district and a popular weekend destination in the Konkan region. The village became famous after the release of the 1990 film Agneepathwith Amitabh Bachchan, and its 2012 remake of the same name, with Hrithik Roshan and Sanjay Dutt.
In 2016, Devika and her team decided to transform the Mandwa jetty using old shipping containers.
“Mandwa was a transition point for passengers going to Alibaug, so I felt strongly that we had to transform the place. We started small, first installed an ATM, then public toilets, shops , and eventually came up with the idea for a container park called Beach Box, where we recycled about 20 shipping containers and converted them into stores, and even opened an amphitheater for live music performances, theatrical performances, outdoor film screenings, flea markets and dance and fitness sessions,” reveals Devika.
The impact was instantaneous, with attendance rising from 2,000 to 50,000-60,000 per weekend. The successful development of the port gave rise to the idea of M2M Ferries, allowing greater movement of passengers, especially for people bringing their own vehicles.
After getting ready, M2M Ferries launched Maharastra’s first Ro-Ro service between Mumbai and Mandwa in Alibaug, in March 2020. However, before the ferry service could start, operations came to an abrupt halt with the announcement of the night lock.
The company finally began commercial operations in August 2020, with the transport vessel capable of carrying More than 500 passengers, 120 cars/buses and 60 bicycles.
According to Devika, the ferry service makes Mandwa accessible all year round, which was not the case before.
“During the monsoon months, the port was not accessible as speedboats and regular ferries are smaller in size and they could not operate between Gateway of India and Mandwa. But our ships are suitable for all kinds of weather conditions, which has also helped locals commute to work in Mumbai on a daily basis,” she explains.
While passenger services have ticket prices ranging from Rs 400 to Rs 1,500vehicles such as cycles are charged Rs 100, car prices are between Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000depending on size, and buses are charged anywhere between Rs 3,000 to Rs 7,000. Tickets can be booked online or at ticket booths on the site, and services start at 7 a.m.
Upon debuting in 2020, the first day of commercial operations, the service saw approximately 100 passengers and 150 vehicles. In 2021, the service carried more than 5.5 lakh passengers, more than one lakh cars and around 30,000 bicycles, according to Devika. She adds that vehicles traveling on ferry services rather than road have also resulted in a significant reduction in carbon footprint.
Not an easy sail
The M2M Ferries vessel is approximately 100 meters long and was imported from Greece. Devika says the company’s initial investment was Rs 75 billion. Noting that she doesn’t expect to break even in the short term, the entrepreneur says she’s in it for the long haul.
“Before importing this ship from Greece, we sent our crew there to figure out how to park this ship; it’s a boat and it’s not easy. We had to practice parking skills, lanes, etc., and it had to be precise. We now load in about 10 minutes. Our ground staff are local, but we made sure that our crew had experience in the merchant navy or the merchant navy,” informs Devika, adding that a regular service has around 30 to 35 crew members, including including housekeeping, security and operations. The company currently has 100 employees.
As a self-funded business with no institutional funding, revenue stream is a concern.
“We initially faced setbacks as the tourism industry was hit hard during the pandemic, and we had just started operations in 2020. We did not expect to be closed for the first six months when we we started! But I would still say it’s a promising business, and we look forward to the next two or three years without any further downtime,” says Devika, declining to share revenue figures.
She adds that May was a busy month, with the ship carrying close to 65,000 passengers in the single month.
The maritime industry has traditionally not been associated with women. According to the BIMCO/ICS 2021 report, although the sector has seen a 50% increase in the female maritime workforce since 2015, women only represent 1.2% of the global seafaring workforce. .
As a pioneer in the segment, Devika says it has been difficult to run the business.
“Even in terms of financing, we cannot pledge the transport vessel, so convincing the banks to finance it was difficult and time-consuming. Finding a way around that took a colossal effort, and the moment things fell into place, COVID-19 arrived!” she says.
Despite the challenges, the young entrepreneur is eager to explore future plans. “While this experience with Ro-Pax has been great, we want to look at ship number 2 or 3 to go to other ports. We are also very invested in creating more destinations. We have also established partnerships with BookMyShow sites,” says Devika.
She continues: “Creating waterfronts and transforming these spaces has been a personal passion. In our country, hill stations are popular, but with the type of coastline we have, seafronts also have enormous potential, and we can create marinas to attract tourists. We would like to explore yachting as it is very popular all over the world so why not in India? concludes Devika.