Monday, 17 May 2010

Cruise Control

The port of Kochi has withdrawn the discount it was offering cruise ships, says Livemint; the report says that even though Kochi hosted a record 44 ships in the last financial year, making it India’s largest cruise hub, the port submitted to the Tariff Authority for Major Ports that there “wasn’t much demand for cruise ships”. “There is no steady growth in cruise traffic as well as vessel related income for the last three years due to concessional vessel related charges for cruise vessels,” the port told the regulator. “Hence, the concession is being withdrawn.”

The 33 percent discount the port was offering earlier had not stopped operators grumbling about charges. Louis Cruise Lines had stopped using Kochi as its homeport three months ago saying that costs were too high. Louis Cruise was paying around $73,000 every week to Kochi port, a senior official told Livemint, when its cruise vessel, the MV Aquamarine, used to stay there for about 15 hours a week.

The Aquamarine sails from Kochi to Colombo, Sri Lanka and the Maldives for an “unparalleled discovery of the aquamarine waters off the coast of Sri Lanka and the idyllic island of Maldives”, the company claims. It has a passenger capacity of 1200 and boasts of 525 suites, four bars, an outdoor pool and a casino, besides the usual facilities guests have come to expect from Louis Cruise, the fifth largest cruise ship operator in the world. Rumours are that she was even modified to include a cricket pitch for Indian clientele!

Observers say that many cruise companies are now finding the infrastructure and charges at many Indian ports to be a handicap to the kind of operations that they are used to elsewhere. The industry hardly had off the blocks in India two years ago, after easing of Central Government policies that problems first surfaced in Mumbai and Goa, resulting in a withdrawal of services by operators. Amongst other reasons, cruise ships were being docked at the coal terminal in Murmagao. “It’s like standing in a coal mine,” an executive for a cruise line had said then.

The Central Government’s attempts to promote the cruise industry in India will be ill served by such decisions. It has been just a year since the government allowed foreign ships to carry passengers between Indian ports without a licence. There have not been too many takers there, for reasons already mentioned. Kochi, really, is the only bright spot left for the industry in India. Let us hope that this move will not materially affect its lustre.

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