According to John Amaratunga, the ferry service was operational between Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and Talaimannar.(Photo: Facebook/@johnaeamaratunga)
Sri Lanka is keen to resume ferry service with India to boost tourism and hopes the initiative will be made before this year-end, a Sri Lankan Minister said Wednesday.
"There was a ferry service between the tip of South India and to the northern part of Sri Lanka. It was not only to carry people but also cargo between the two countries. But, the service was abandoned. The infrastructure still remains," Sri Lanka Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga said.
According to him, the ferry service was operational between Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and Talaimannar.
The Minister said he undertook a visit to the Talaimannar pier were the infrastructure was still present. "It is from the South Indian side (Rameswaram) that efforts need to be taken up".
Amaratunga was talking to reporters at the sidelines of an event organized by Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.
Noting that the ferry service was in existence in the "good old days", he said, adding certain problems occurred both in Sri Lanka and India leading to the service getting abandoned.
"This service was abandoned. And now, I am taking the initiative to resume the service. Our High Commission is talking to the government of India to resume the service", he said.
There was a railway line near the jetty close to the Talaimannar pier and it can take passengers from there to any part of Sri Lanka, he said "On the part of Sri Lankan government we are very anxious to resume the service. But the delay is from the part of the government of India. The South Indian state (Tamil Nadu) must take a stand on this," he said.
"I hope before the end of the year we would resume the ferry service," he said.
On the tourism sector in the island nation, the Minister said following the bomb blast in April, 98 percent of tourists had canceled their visit to Sri Lanka thereby affecting the tourism sector.
He said the tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka in 2018 was 2.3 million and the total tourist earnings were USD 4.3 billion.
"This year our expectation is (to reach) USD 5 billion revenue and total tourist arrivals to be 3 million people.
But with the disruption (bomb blast), it may not be achieved.
We will look at least to reach two million tourists (in 2019)," he said responding to a query.
In a bid to attract more tourists, he said the government has implemented a visa-on-arrival facility from India and from 47 other countries.
Besides, the government has also waived off visa fees and also reduced the ground-handling cost so that more airlines can operate in Lanka.
"We have reduced the embarking charges, fuel levies so that more frequencies take place in airlines bringing people from different destinations. The domestic connectivity has also been improved," he said.
Amaratunga said the first visit taken up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Colombo after winning the polls for a successive second term was a signal to the rest of the world that there was no problem in terms of safety and security to tourists visiting the country.
"Today, the political relationship between the Sri Lankan government and the government of India is at a peak, and cordial", he said.