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India-Sri Lanka ferry service restarted after 40 yrs: Opportunities, challenges

Context- An age-old sea route between India and Sri Lanka has been rejuvenated with the inauguration of a passenger ferry service from Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu to Kankesanthurai in Jaffna, Northern Sri Lanka.

(Credits- Google Maps)

The initiative is aimed at bolstering bilateral ties, boosting tourism, and increasing people-to-people relations. It is expected to benefit local traders on both shores.

The new service

  • The ferry service was launched on Saturday. The name of the vessel, a High Speed Craft, is ‘Cheriyapani’.
  • A one-way ticket costs approximately Rs 7,670, with a baggage allowance of up to 40 kg per passenger. The journey starts from Nagapattinam at 7 am, reaching Kankesanthurai by 11 am

The previous route

  • Maritime linkage between India and Sri Lanka isn’t new. The Indo-Ceylon Express or Boat Mail ran between Chennai and Colombo via the Thoothukudi port from the early 1900s up until 1982. However, the civil war in Sri Lanka resulted in the halting of these services.
  • Before the civil war erupted, one of the most popular routes was from Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar. Passengers from Chennai would get onto the Boat Mail Express, a train from Chennai’s Egmore railway station, and then transfer to a coal-powered steam ferry in Dhanushkodi, which would take them to Talaimannar in roughly two hours.

Attempts to restart

  • The resumption of ferry services has been on the cards for quite some time, especially after the war ended in 2009. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning passenger transportation by sea was signed in 2011 and a similar service was launched. However, it did not last for more than six months due to poor response.
  • Attempts were also made to establish services from Rameswaram to Talaimannar and Karaikal to Kankesanthurai. Various challenges kept these proposals from materialising.

Potential impact of the new service

  • By providing a transportation option, the ferry can amplify religious tourism in the coastal regions of both countries. From India, travellers can access significant religious sites in Colombo and the southern parts of Sri Lanka.
  • Indian pilgrim centres such as Nagapattinam, Nagore, Velankanni, Thirunallar, and temple towns such as Thanjavur, Madurai, and Tiruchi are expected to see an influx of Lankan tourists.
  • Beyond religious tourism, the services would boost regional commerce and trade.

Infrastructure and planning

  • Anticipating the influx of travellers, the state government of Tamil Nadu is ramping up infrastructural developments.
  • The Nagapattinam port, under the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board, was upgraded recently with funds worth Rs 8 crore from the Union Ministry of External Affairs.
  • Launching the service on October 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said connectivity is not only about bringing two cities closer but “also also brings our countries closer, our people closer and our hearts closer.”
  • Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his video message, called the revival of the ferry service an important step towards strengthening connectivity between India and Sri Lanka.

Way Forward

Crucial to the success of the new venture will be how it is operated. Already, even as the inauguration of the ferry was being celebrated, the Shipping Corporation of India’s (SCI) initial plan to run services every day for 10 days has been rescheduled to operate thrice a week.

Syllabus- GS-2; International Relations

Source- Indian Express

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