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Revival of ferry service to SL welcome

The resumption of the ferry service between India and Sri Lanka last week marked a new chapter in improving ties and connectivity between the two countries. Last Saturday, a ferry, Cheriyapani, started operating a service with 50 people aboard from Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu to Kankesanthurai in Jaffna across the Palk Strait. The first such service had started in the 1900s. There were many links between the countries, including the Boat Mail from Chennai to Talaimannar and the services from Rameswaram to Talaimannar and from Thoothukudi to Colombo. All these were disrupted in the 1980s in the wake of ethnic strife in Sri Lanka, and discontinued. Air services were the main link between the two countries. A ferry service that was started between Colombo and Thoothukudi 10 years ago was discontinued shortly. A private cruise service started in Chennai four months ago and has received good response. The new service will hopefully last. 

Relations between India and Sri Lanka have seen ups and downs in the past. China has steadily strengthened its ties with Lanka through aid and investment, which has increased over the years. The two big countries are seen to be in competition in the island-nation. India recently extended aid and support to Sri Lanka in a major way when the country was passing through serious financial straits and facing a near-collapse of the economy. When Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickramesinghe visited India in July there was, among other agreements, the decision to improve maritime connectivity and to revive the old sea routes between the two countries. India also agreed to extend help for development of ports at Colombo, Kankesanthurai and Trincomalee to promote trade and commerce and other linkages. The resumption of the ferry service should be seen in this context. 

The revival of the sea route will help to strengthen not only trade and economic relations but also people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges. These have historically existed and can be improved further to the benefit of the two countries and the people. There is great potential to improve tourism also. The ferry service will be suspended next week because of the north-east monsoon and will resume in January. The one-way fare of Rs 7,600 is considered to be on the high side. Water transport should be cheaper but the fare is not competitive even with air fares. It is also necessary to improve passenger facilities and infrastructure at the Nagapattinam port. If the ferry service stabilises and becomes sustainable, it can lead to the revival of other services which were stopped in the recent past. Both countries stand to gain by the improved connectivity.

(Published 20 October 2023, 19:17 IST)

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