A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Sri Lanka and India on Passenger Transport by Sea at Temple Trees today (7 January).
Secretary to the Ministry of Ports and Highways Mrs. Sujatha Cooray and Indian High Commissioner Mr. Ashok K. Kantha signed the MoU in the presence of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The MoU will enable ferry services between Colombo and Tuticorin (Thuthukudi), and Talaimannar and Rameshwaram. The Colombo-Tuticorin service will commence initially.
Deputy Minister of Ports and Highways Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Secretary and other officials of the Ministry, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority Dr. Priyath B. Wickrama, Indian High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner were also present at the event.
A Joint Committee Meeting is being held on 10-11 January, 2011 in Colombo, during which officials from India and Sri Lanka will discuss the modalities to start the service. The Shipping Corporation of India has already received Expression of Interest from potential ferry service operators in India and is examining them in order to finalise the grant of a concession to operate ferry services between Tuticorin and Colombo, which could commence shortly, Indian High Commission said in a release.
Services between Talaimannar and Rameshwaram will commence once the requisite infrastructure is put in place on both sides. An Indian company, IRCON, has already commenced survey work for this purpose to restore the damaged pier in Talaimannar, the release added.
Sea passenger transportation between India and Sri Lanka is being established consequent to the Joint Declaration issued on June 9, 2010 following talks held in India between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on the need to speedily restore the traditional links between the two countries and to resume the ferry services between Colombo and Tuticorin, and between Talaimannar and Rameshwaram which stopped after 1982.
Passenger transportation by sea is being established in view of the large number of businessmen, holiday makers, pilgrims and students who travel regularly to and from Sri Lanka and India. Figures of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) show that the largest number of visitors to Sri Lanka is from India and is increasing with the restoration of peace in Sri Lanka. According to SLTDA figures, 111,129 Indians had come to Sri Lanka in 2010 excluding the month of December with a monthly average of nearly 10,000. With mutual consent, passenger transportation by sea between the two countries will later expand to other ports.
In October last year, a delegation led by India’s Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping K. Mohandas visited Sri Lanka to hold discussions with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Ports and Aviation with regard to passenger transportation by sea.