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India-Sri Lanka Ferry Service Reopens After Four Decades


An age-old sea route between India and Sri Lanka has been rejuvenated with the inauguration of a passenger ferry service from Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu to Kankesanthurai in Jaffna, Northern Sri Lanka. This initiative aims to bolster bilateral ties, boost tourism, and increase people-to-people relations while benefiting local traders on both shores.

The New Service

The passenger ferry service, named ‘Cheriyapani,’ was officially launched on a Saturday. The one-way ticket for this high-speed craft costs approximately Rs 7,670, with a generous baggage allowance of up to 40 kg per passenger. The journey commences at Nagapattinam at 7 am, reaching Kankesanthurai by 11 am, and the return trip starts at 1.30 pm, arriving in Nagapattinam by 5.30 pm.

The Previous Route

While the recent ferry service inauguration is a new development, maritime linkage between India and Sri Lanka has a long history. The Indo-Ceylon Express or Boat Mail operated between Chennai and Colombo via the Thoothukudi port from the early 1900s until 1982. However, the civil war in Sri Lanka led to the suspension of these services.

Pre-Civil War: Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar

Before the civil war, one of the most popular routes was from Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar. Passengers from Chennai would board the Boat Mail Express, a train from Chennai’s Egmore railway station, and then transfer to a coal-powered steam ferry in Dhanushkodi, which would take them to Talaimannar in approximately two hours.

Attempts to Restart

The idea of resuming ferry services between India and Sri Lanka has been under consideration for years, especially after the end of the civil war in 2009. In 2011, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning passenger transportation by sea was signed, and a similar service was launched. However, it did not last for more than six months due to a poor response.

Efforts were also made to establish services from Rameswaram to Talaimannar and Karaikal to Kankesanthurai, but various challenges prevented these proposals from materializing.

Potential Impact of the New Service

The reestablishment of the passenger ferry service has the potential to have a profound impact on the region. By providing an additional transportation option, it can amplify religious tourism in the coastal regions of both India and Sri Lanka. Indian pilgrim centers and temple towns are expected to see an influx of Lankan tourists, which would stimulate the local economies in these regions.

Tamil Nadu’s Commitment to the New Ferry Service

Recognizing the significance of this new service, the state government of Tamil Nadu is actively working on infrastructure development. E V Velu, the Minister for Public Works, has noted that the state is coordinating with various departments of the Union government to ensure a smooth experience for passengers.

Infrastructure Enhancement at Nagapattinam Port

The Nagapattinam port, under the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board, was recently upgraded with funds worth Rs 8 crore from the Union Ministry of External Affairs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the service’s launch, emphasized that connectivity is not just about bringing two cities closer but also about bringing countries, people, and hearts closer.

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