KOCHI: Will Kerala get a direct passenger ship service to Dubai? The proposal mooted by minister for ports Ahammed Devarkovil to launch a shipping service from Beypore to Dubai has kindled enthusiasm among the thousands of Keralites working in GCC countries as labourers. However, experts in the shipping sector have expressed doubts over the project’s feasibility due to cost factors, transit time and lack of infrastructure facilities.
“There are thousands of Keralites working in the GCC countries who cannot visit their relatives even after ten years due to the exorbitant flight fares. The flight rates rise from Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 during festivals and summer vacations, making it unaffordable for low-income labourers working in the GCC countries to travel home. The minister had received representations from workers in Gulf countries regarding the exorbitant flight rates, which prompted us to think about an alternative,” said an officer at the minister’s office.
The state government had set aside Rs 15 crore in the budget to explore the possibility of launching a passenger ship service to the Gulf region. “The plan is to conduct one service a month. Kerala Maritime Board Chairman N S Pillai has been entrusted with the task of exploring the possibility of starting service at a rate affordable for the labourers.
The board will invite an expression of interest and hold discussions with shipping service operators. According to our assessment, the ship can reach Beypore in three-and-a-half days. While the flight operators allow only 30 kilograms per passenger, the ships can offer more luggage,” said the official.
However, experts in the shipping service field claimed that the project was not viable. “The distance from Beypore to Dubai is 1,879 nautical miles, and a cruise ship will take at least five days to reach the destination. A worker in Dubai who comes to Kerala on a one-month vacation cannot afford to spend ten days in transit. The ship conducting service to Lakshadweep with a subsidy from the Union government charges Rs 4,500 for 189 nautical miles. Then how much will the ship charge for 1,879 nautical miles,” asked SS Maritime Shipping company CEO S Mahadevan.
The voyage time will be five days if the ship cruises at 20 knots per hour. The ship will have to provide food and rooms for the passengers. Boarding, disembarking and luggage transfer will be time-consuming. Besides, the ship will have to appoint three staff members for ten passengers. If a vessel with a passenger capacity of 500 people is charted, it will need a 7-metre draft at Beypore. However, the draft at Beypore port is only 4 metres,” he said.
According to Mahadevan, the charter ship will charge USD 40,000 per day, and the fuel consumption will be 150 tonnes per day. The shipping firm will have to charge Rs 70,000 per person to make the service profitable. The flight charge will be in the range of Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 during the off-season and will rise to a maximum of Rs 40,000 during peak season. When a passenger travelling by flight can reach his house within 6 hours, will he opt for shipping service,” he asked.