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News article31 January 2024Directorate-General for Communication5 min read

Smooth Sailing: A Solar-Powered Cable Ferry in Rural Croatia

NextGenerationEU is helping countries fund a greener, more sustainable, and increasingly digital future. Though many of the scheme’s projects are still underway or under review, some have already been completed, improving the lives of local citizens. A recently replaced cable ferry in Križnica, Croatia, is one such project. We spoke with local ferry operator, Josip Sesvečan, who told us more about the new vessel’s safety, efficiency and reliability, and how these have improved local mobility and enabled further regional development. 

Located along the Hungarian border, within Croatia’s north-eastern Pitomača municipality, the village of Križnica lies at heart of the Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve and Mura-Drava Regional Park. A pedestrian bridge enables Križnica residents to safely cross the River Drava on foot or by bicycle, but vehicles and machinery have, until recently, made the journey via a fifty-year-old cable ferry. Under Croatia’s NextGenerationEU-funded Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP), a brand new solar-powered cable ferry has been installed, replacing an ageing, outdated model and enhancing locals’ daily commute. 

Križnica’s surrounding area is a natural heritage site, with rich animal and plant life. Part of Europe’s NATURA 2000 network of protected zones for valuable and threatened species, it is fast becoming an attractive tourist destination. The local interpretative centre opened in March 2023, drawing an increasing number of visitors. Beyond tourism, the local economy relies heavily on agriculture, with family farms producing vegetables, fruit and cereals. To transport personal and freight vehicles, as well as agricultural machinery and goods, crossing the river via cable ferry is the only option.  

The old cable ferry was finally retired last year, having first entered service in 1974. Due to regular repairs and maintenance, it could no longer fulfil the local community’s needs. As a result, Pitomača municipality commissioned a new solar-powered vessel under the country’s RRP, with an investment value of €906,438.96. Entering service in March 2023, it had an immediate impact on locals’ daily commute and quality of life. One man to directly benefit was Pitomača municipal employee Josip Sesvečan, who spent 32 years working on the old ferry. Now operating the new model, we sat down with him to gather his views: 

How are you connected to the project and what do you think of it? 

JS: I’m very close to the project. I worked on the old ferry for 32 years and continue to operate the new one alongside four colleagues. I am also president of the local council in Križnica and I've lived here my entire life. Everything has improved since the new ferry’s installation. The older model was much smaller and less secure due to wear and tear. The Drava is a fast and powerful river, with its rapids sometimes making ferry rides a challenge. As operators, we have to take many precautions. Besides water levels, we must consider logs, branches and other objects that can emerge from the river and damage parts of the ferry if they get stuck under the pontoons. The new vessel has made navigation and transportation easier and safer, which means a lot to those of us who work on the ferry or use it daily. As a ferryman, I am responsible for the safety of passengers and their property, so I am now much calmer and more confident with each departure. 

What are some of the new ferry’s highlights? What problems has it solved? 

JS: Physical work has been reduced to a minimum, as many systems have been improved thanks to electric motors powered by solar panels on the ferry’s roof. These motors tighten the cable for us, ensuring the ferry is properly aligned, while sensors alert us when water is coming on board. For us operators, there is far less manual labour than before. The new ferry also has a higher load capacity, carrying between eight and ten vehicles and up to 50 passengers. The old ferry could carry a maximum of 20 passengers and was far more sensitive to changes in water levels, with a risk of vehicle damage when boarding and disembarking. For this reason alone, some people avoided using it whenever possible. This is now a thing of the past, however, as the new model is safe, reliable and much easier to board and disembark. As operators, we now have more time to focus on monitoring water levels, assisting passengers with loading, and ensuring their safety and comfort. This is reassuring for residents and tourists alike. 

What changes do you hope to see in your region as a result of this project? 

JS: Locals who regularly use the ferry have been aware of the project's importance from the very beginning. They have been enthusiastic about replacing the old model with a new, modern and more technologically advanced one. Like everyone else, they value the safety and reliability of ferry transport, with a replacement having been long overdue. I hope and believe that the new ferry will encourage local residents to continue living and working here, as it will facilitate their daily lives and their commute to other parts of the country. I also think it will promote tourism and boost the development of new activities in Križnica, opening up our municipality to the regions beyond Pitomača. 

Križnica’s cable ferry is just one in a long list of projects financed through Croatia’s RRP. Though each one has a specific focus area relative to national priorities and local needs, all collectively contribute to reinforcing the country’s economic and social resilience, while accelerating digital transformation and the green transition. Such funding can be crucial for smaller communities like Križnica and Pitomača municipality, as it allocates much needed resources to open up remote localities and boost local development. The new cable ferry lays solid foundations for the area’s future, offering residents a more reliable, secure and eco-friendly means of transportation across the Drava. This will prove essential for traditional local industries like agriculture, while enabling local authorities, residents and businesses to pursue their ambitions in terms of tourism and leisure.


Publication date
31 January 2024
Directorate-General for Communication
  • Croatia