Swiss solar-powered catamaran PlanetSolar remains stranded in India

PlanetSolar completed the first solar-powered around-the-world sail in 2012. Keystone / Evangelos Bougiotis

The PlanetSolar catamaran, renamed Porrima, has run aground and remains stranded on a beach south of Mumbai in India, according to media reports. It was the first boat to complete a solar-powered round-the-world voyage.

This content was published on September 13, 2022 - 10:55

The news was first reported last month by the French-language news site 24heures after a YouTube video of the solar catamaran with a Swiss flag emerged. The videoExternal link, which shows the local population visiting the interior of the boat, has been viewed more than 1.3 million times. The video also shows that the boat’s motor, batteries and hull have been badly damaged.

The owner of the boat, Gunter Pauli, who lives outside Geneva acknowledged the accident in an interviewExternal link on Swiss public television RTS on Monday, saying that fortunately no one was in the catamaran when the accident occurred.

“It's tragic. It's always tragic when a boat, after 100,000 miles, finds itself on a beach. But on the other hand, it's still quite exceptional that after 12 years, it meets its first disaster,” said Pauli.

The Swiss-led catamaran set off from France in 2017 on a five-year voyage to raise awareness about the level of plastic pollution in oceans.

Unique boat

In 2012, PlanetSolar became the first boat to complete a solar-powered round-the-world voyage. At the time, the CHF16 million ($17.3 million) boat, which sails under a Swiss flag, was the world’s largest vessel fuelled by renewable energy.

Several other expeditions later, the boat was bought in 2021, renamed Porrima and embarked on a new world tour to promote renewable energies. It has been named a “special supporter” of the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, Japan.

The tides turned, however, when two members were taken away by Indian police two weeks before the accident. According to RTS, cantonal police in Switzerland are investigating the case. A new captain was apparently steering the ship when the boat landed in India, on a beach 100km south of Mumbai. It isn’t clear whether the accident was caused by human error but the boat’s designer, Raphaël Domjan, told RTS that the boat is complex to navigate, and it isn’t clear if the crew was well-trained.

The boat should be towed in the coming days and Pauli assured RTS that it will sail again in February 2023.

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