India and Sri Lanka have revived passenger ferry services discontinued in the early 1980s after the Island nation slipped into a civil war that lasted for nearly three decades.
Early on Tuesday, the Scotia Prince dropped anchor at the Colombo port after beginning its journey from Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu on Monday afternoon, carrying more than 200 passengers and crew numbering over 100.
The journey, officials said, could be made between eight and 12 hours depending on sea and weather conditions. According to the company that has chartered the ship, the vessel will do two round trips a week initially; it will leave Tuticorin on the evenings of Monday and Friday and depart from Colombo on Wednesday and Sunday every week.
Another ship will to be run by the Lanka state-owned Ceylon Shipping Corporation will begin operating soon.
Interestingly, Scotia Prince with a capacity to carry more than 1000 people was deployed by the Indian government to evacuate Indians stranded in Libya after clashes erupted between government troops and pro-democracy supporters earlier this year. As a result, the ferry service which was to resume in March was delayed.
The Tuticorin-Colombo service – which is charting a route last used in the early 20th century by the British – is the first of the two such services. The second one between Talaimannar in north Sri Lanka and Rameshwaram is likely to be inaugurated later this year.
"The ferry service across the Palk Straits was first started by noted nationalist VO Chidambaranar or VOC way back in 1907 between Dhanuskodi and Talaimannar in Lanka. It was cancelled in 1964 when a super cyclone destroyed the Dhanuskodi port, after which it was shifted to Rameshwaram. It was operational till the early 80s when the civil conflict between the Tamil rebels and the government worsened," the Daily Mirror newspaper reported on Tuesday.The luxury liner Scotia Prince, an US-origin ship, is 143 metres long, has nine decks and has restaurants, bars and casinos on it. A banquet hall on it can accommodate more than 200 persons.
According to officials, fares range from a little over Rs 2000 per person in economy class to a more expensive Rs 14000 plus for a first class cabin with three berths. Each passenger can carry. Depending on the ticket, a passenger can carry up to 200 kg of cargo for free.
The resumption of the ferry service is likely to give an impetus to tourism, especially Indian tourists coming to Sri Lanka, and trade. Statistics with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) show that the largest number of visitors to Sri Lanka in 2010 was from India. According to SLTDA figures, 111,129 Indians had come to Sri Lanka in 2010 excluding the month of December with a monthly average of nearly 10,000.