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With no service provider, Kerala-UAE passenger ship link in choppy waters

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KOZHIKODE : The Kerala Maritime Board’s (KMB) proposal to launch the Kerala-Dubai passenger ship service from the second week of January has hit rough waters with no suitable service provider in sight. Though the state ports department held a meeting with a UAE-based company, no one has evinced interest in running the service.

KMB Chairman M S Pillai said the department is trying its best to find a service provider suitable for both Beypore and Cochin ports. “Preparations were being made to start the service from January. Neither the central nor the state ports ministries have ships suitable for passenger services. When we contacted some services providers they didn’t express interest in the project due to various reasons. Following this, the department decided to call a tender. As of now, we are not certain that Beypore- Dubai service can be started in January,” Pillai told.

On November 8, the Union shipping ministry agreed to the proposal for a passenger service between Kerala and GCC countries. “As the Central government has given in-principle approval, the ports department has again contacted NORKA to speed up the letter of interest process. If the tender process is completed, the state government will start the ship service by the second week of January. KMB and NORKA Roots have initiated the necessary technical steps,” State Ports Minister Ahammad Devarkovil said in a social media post.

The chartered ship service is expected to reduce the travel expenses of the Malayali diaspora in the Gulf and expand cargo services between the southern states of India and GCC countries, besides boosting development in Kerala, especially cargo, IT, tourism and medical sectors.

“We are expecting a revolutionary change in travel patterns. The majority of Malayalis in the Gulf are from the Malabar region. With the suspension of large aircraft services from Karipur, passengers from Kozhikode, Malappuram and other neighbouring districts can carry only 30kg of luggage. The Beypore-Kochi-Dubai ship service will allow each passenger can carry up to 200kg of luggage without any additional cost,” said Malabar Development Council President C E Chakkunni.

However, many have raised concerns about the feasibility of the service. “When an even average cruise service between the two countries can cost many times over, how can we issue tickets for Rs 10,000? said Malabar Development Forum president K M Basheer. “It was 25 years ago that a passenger ferry service to Kochi was started from Khalid Port in Sharjah. It failed miserably due to the high costs involved.

The new Dubai-Kerala service could meet with the same fate. Air tickets are available for Rs 15,000 and less during the off-season. When one can fly home in five hours why should expatriates spend five days on a ship? If the service is aimed at the average NRI, authorities should understand that these people have only 30 days of leave annually. Ten days on a ship for a round trip leaves them with little else to do,” said Basheer. “Another major issue is the Beypore wharf has a draft of just 3.50m.

A ship from Dubai carrying at least 500 passengers coming through the foreign ship channel would require a draft of at least 7m. Beyond the 3.5m depth of the current wharf is rock, which will need to be broken up for its further deepening. The state government has only allotted Rs 15 crore for the development of Beypore port. How can all this work be completed with this amount of money? Practically, this service can only be run as a once-in-a-month pleasure cruise,” Basheer added.

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