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New ferry service to heal scars of Sri Lanka's civil war

The high-speed service between India’s Tamil Nadu and Jaffna took off on its maiden journey on Oct. 15

Fishermen ride their boat along the shoreline in Jaffna on Aug. 10.  During the three decades old civil war, connectivity to Jaffna, a Tamil stronghold, was damaged beyond repair.

Fishermen ride their boat along the shoreline in Jaffna on Aug. 10.  During the three decades old civil war, connectivity to Jaffna, a Tamil stronghold, was damaged beyond repair. (Photo AFP)

Published: October 25, 2023 11:56 AM GMT

Updated: October 25, 2023 12:11 PM GMT

A new ferry service between Sri Lanka and India across the Palk Strait has been launched in an effort to heal the wounds of three decades of civil war and its accompanying ethnic divisions in the island nation.

The high-speed service between India’s Nagapattinam in southern Tamil Nadu and Kankesanthurai (KKS) in northern Jaffna commenced its journey on Oct. 15 with over 50 passengers on board. 

Soon after independence from Britain in 1948, the majority Sinhalese made efforts to dominate over the 11.2 percent ethnic Tamil community and the Indian Ocean nation witnessed a civil war in 1983. 

In the country of 22 million people, the Sinhalese are Buddhists while Tamils subscribe to Christianity and Hinduism. They have deep cultural and spiritual ties with India. However, they often display significant linguistic and religious divisions.

Father Ruban Mariyampillai, former editor of Paathukaavalan, the official Tamil journal of Jaffna diocese, said that the ferry service will pave the way for smooth connectivity between India and Sri Lanka.

“This would be beneficial for religious tourism, particularly for both Christians and Hindus,” Father Mariyampillai told UCA News. 

Catholic pilgrim destinations like Annai Velankanni shrine and San Thome Basilica in Tamil Nadu are quite popular among Christians in Sri Lanka, Father Mariyampillai observed.

The ferry covers a distance of about 60 nautical miles (110 kilometers) in around 3.5 hours, depending on weather conditions.

T. Kanagaraj from Nagarkovil in Tamil Nadu was among those who traveled on the maiden passage.

“This is the first time I’m visiting Jaffna but it is very special since it is by sea. I have heard about many places here and look forward to visiting them,” he said.

Subathra Vaseekaran, manager at Jaffna Air Services, which manages ticket booking, said the local business community and religious pilgrims have shown interest in the service.

The Indo-Ceylon Express or Board Mail from Chennai and the Sri Lankan capital Colombo via Thoothukudi port was stopped in 1982 due to the civil war in the island country.

During the long brutal civil war, connectivity in Jaffna, a Tamil stronghold, was adversely affected and many passenger jetties, including the Thalaimannar pier, ceased their operations.

Of late, India and Sri Lanka have resumed connectivity by air and sea with daily flight service between Tamil Nadu capital Chennai and Jaffna. Ten months ago, the luxury Cordelia cruise service was launched.

The ferry service is run by the Shipping Corporation of India with Asha Agencies of the Pership Group as its local agent. A regular ticket costs Rs 7,760 (US$94).

“I also plan to take my family in the near future if ticket prices are reduced,” Kanagaraj told UCA News on the sidelines of a felicitation ceremony. 

If the rates are slashed, more Christians will flock to pilgrim places in India, Father Mariyampillai added.

The service is currently put on hold due to the ongoing monsoon season in the region. It is scheduled to start in January next year. 

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