Kerala to launch passenger ship service to Gulf as air fares soar

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India’s coastal state of Kerala is planning to launch a passenger ship service to provide affordable travel to Gulf states, local authorities said on Thursday, amid soaring costs of air travel.

Spread along the Malabar Coast of India, Kerala is the main place of origin of Indian expatriates in the Middle East, with about 3.5 million of them living and working in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Many of Kerala expats are laborers for whom the increasing cost of air travel has been a major burden, especially during festive seasons, such as the Hindu harvest festival Onam, the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha, and Christmas, when demand for flights soars.

P.T. Joy, private secretary of Kerala Ports Minister Ahammad Devarkovil, said that the state government is developing an alternative, cheaper route through the Arabian Sea.

“This is a necessity because during the festival season the air fare is very high, and that prevents the blue-collar workers and poor workers from the Gulf countries from traveling to their homelands,” Joy said.

“The expatriates are in a situation where they have to set aside the lion’s share of their small earnings for travel.”

While the timeframe is still undecided, the initial plan and budget were agreed by the local government, the Malabar Development Council and the Kerala Maritime Board on Wednesday.

Initial funding will come from Kerala’s annual budget, where funds have already been earmarked to ease the travel burden facing expatriates.

“The Kerala government has already allocated 15 crore rupees ($1.8 million) for that,” Joy said.
“We are planning to fix the modalities, how to hire ships and other formalities and how to communicate these things to the communities living in the GCC countries.”

The Kerala Maritime Board predicts that the lower fare and larger luggage allowance will make the ship service popular.

“We are planning to charter some ships with 1,000 or 2,000 capacity. People will be able to carry 50 to 60 kg of weight in the ship as against 15 or 20 kg in flight. That may woo passengers,” N.S.S. Pillai, the board’s chairman said.

Services will operate seasonally, with the peak period usually falling between August and the end of the year.

“We are trying to reach some logical plan. We cannot say any timeframe (yet),” Pillai said.

“Only during the festival seasons, we will use the ship services because in the off season flights are cheaper.”

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