| IN CHOPPY WATERS
New Delhi, April 18: The Vajpayee government has apparently torpedoed the plan to provide a ship service between Mumbai and Karachi as a feasibility study has shown that the service will not be commercially viable.
The plan for the ship service between the two major port cities in India and Pakistan was conceived to promote people-to-people contacts between the two countries and to buttress the plane and bus services that are already available.
Sources say the cost of a passenger ticket for the Mumbai-Karachi sea link works out to around Rs 8,000. This is more expensive than an air ticket which costs only Rs 6,000 between the two destinations.
The move to introduce the Mumbai-Karachi ship service formed part of the Islamabad statement for friendlier ties endorsed by India and Pakistan in January this year.
Before the 1965 India-Pakistan war, there was a weekly passenger ship service between Karachi and Mumbai and the two countries had sought to revive this link.
However, the great technological leap which has made air travel cheaper has also rendered passenger ships both obsolete and an unviable mode of transport.
The government had apparently not done adequate homework as far as the sea link is concerned. Sources say that passenger ships are not considered viable any more and this fact holds true worldwide.
The only passenger ships that ply these days are cruise ships which essentially provide a holiday package.
The ships are equipped with modern recreational facilities and casinos which keep the customers entertained. The objective of the cruise is not to transport people from one destination to another but to provide a recreational or holiday package that is complete in itself.
Passenger ships require a huge investment and, since the returns are not adequate, no shipping company is willing to invest in the business.
“Only small ferries that ply over small distances are currently operating worldwide. The days of the passenger ships are over,” shipping industry expert told The Telegraph.
The distance between Mumbai and Karachi is around 500 nautical miles and would take anywhere between one-and-a-half to two days to traverse by a ship depending on its cruising speed. This would also require facilities for night stay with more cabins and berths. All this results in increasing the cost of building such ships.
In India, there is a ship service from the mainland to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands but this service is highly subsidised by the government. It is run to keep the link with the islands as there is no alternative road or rail connection.
The famous passenger ship service that existed between Mumbai and Goa in the past was subsidised by the Centre and the Maharashtra and Goa governments.
However, with the improved highway and the Konkan railway coming into operation, the Centre and state governments felt there was no further need to continue the subsidy for the service as a cheaper option was available to the people. Once this subsidy was stopped, the private company running the service did not find it viable to continue with it.