Ferry service to Lanka to be suspended till Jan

Chennai: The much hyped passenger ferry service between Nagapattinam and Kankesanthurai in Sri Lanka that was revived after a gap of 40 years on October 14 with a view to, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said enhancing ‘connectivity, promote trade and reinforce the longstanding bonds between our nations,’ will be stopped from Friday in view of the impending North East monsoon season.

According to officials in the Nagapattinam port, the service will resume in January and the high speed vessel, ‘Cheriyapani,’ is to be taken to Kochi port in Kerala for maintenance work.

Flagged off by Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar through video conference, the ferry service would ‘spur our economies and bring out people more closer,’ the Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi exulted in X, adding that it would deepen connectivity for stronger people-to-people ties.

However, the ferry service ran into rough weather in the initial stages itself with the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) that operates it cutting down on the frequency from the original plan of daily service for the first few days to three days a week after a primary assessment of the viability.

On the inaugural trip, there were 50 passengers who sailed to Kankesanthurai in Jaffna and the ship returned with 30 passengers on board. Subsequently the patronage went down further even after it was operated only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Apart from the high cost of the ticket which is more than Rs 7,600 per person for a one-way journey, the timing of the service – it starts from Nagapattinam at 7 am and reaches Kankesanthurai by 11 am to return from there at 1.30 pm and reach base at 5.30 pm – were said to be the causes for not many taking it.

Though the ferry service was expected to ramp up religious tourism with several pilgrim centres of various faiths like Velankannai, Nagore and Thirunallar located quite close to Nagapattinam and even Thanjavur, Madurai and Trichy being not too far from there, there were other issues like immigration and ticketing that passengers found it difficult to sort out by taking the ship.

An earlier ferry service that started in 2011 after the end of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009 was also stopped after six months due to poor response.

Though the sea routes between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka were traditionally popular since the 1900s and people have been crossing the Palk Straits by boats since time immemorial with communities on both the sides having cultural and religious ties, facilities and nature of trade and commerce in the 21 century might not help much in the revival of the old modes of travel.

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