Tuticorin a mismatch for Indo-Lanka ferry serviceJune 16, 2012, 7:26 pm
BY SURESH PERERA
Ambitious plans by Sri Lanka to establish a stable Indo-Lanka ferry service post-war have virtually run aground as the designated Indian port of Tuticorin had failed to make a dent into the growing segment of costly air travel to South India despite a substantial difference in the fare, officials said last week.
It would have been an entirely different story if the passenger vessels had the green light to sail to Rameswaram, as done prior to the suspension of the service due to security concerns in the 1980s, they said. "But, it didn’t happen that way".
After the decimation of the LTTE, India, in 2010, pledged to help Sri Lanka to resume ferry services between Talaimannar and Rameswaram at "an early date to facilitate people-to-people contacts", but the move didn’t materialize.
The Ceylon Shipping Corporation Limited (CSCL) also mulled the prospect of launching an Indo-Lanka ferry service after Flemingo Liners started operating ‘Scotia Prince’, a 1,044 capacity ferry from Colombo to Tuticorin, but the idea didn’t go beyond the blueprint stage.
Subsequ-ently, ‘Scotia Prince’ also halted the service as a sharp decline in passenger traffic led to huge operational losses.
Operating to Tuticorin is not economically viable, says CSCL’s Chairman. Kanchana Ratwatte said. "This Indian port is not suitable for a lucrative ferry operation".
"We are not talking about a high-end cruise liner but a ferry service for ordinary people", he explained. "There should be a convenient overland link for travelers at that end".Most Sri Lankans travel to Chennai and if they were to disembark in Tuticorin, it means an exhausting eight-hour, 565 km ride to this key city in Tamil Nadu, officials noted. "Imagine, the return journey with their luggage and the costs adding up".
If they opt for a budget airline, they can fly into Chennai under an hour’s time for Rs. 14,000 per head, the officials pointed out. "It was no surprise that they were no takers for the ferry despite the hefty luggage allowance".
"We need to have the right numbers (of passengers) to operate a viable service", Ratwatte said. "If Tuticorin is the port, then we can’t find it".
Asked whether CSCL had dropped the idea of launching a ferry service, the Chairman replied, "No, we will still go ahead if the port and the numbers are right".
Under these circumstances, it is not right as yet, he said. "We cannot take losses by operating a ferry service".
The one-way fare from Tuticorin-Colombo on economy class on ‘Scotia Prince’ was priced at Rs. 5,363 while the fare from Colombo-Tuticorin was Rs. 6,600, inclusive of applicable levies, a return ticket at Rs. 11,963, a First Class cabin for three persons at Rs. 72,500, a Super Deluxe cabin for four persons Rs. 53,500 and a Deluxe cabin for four persons at Rs. 51,500.
Tuticorin, known as Thoothukudi, is surrounded on the north by the districts of Tirunelveli, Virudhunagar and Ramanathapuram, on the east and south-east by Gulf of Mannar and on the west and south-west by the district of Tirunelveli.
What’s Sri Lanka’s best overseas Test win?
Last Updated May 21 2013 | 06:02 pm