Travel between Lakshadweep Islands and Kochi requires agonising wait for ship, berths

With Lakshadweep administration’s largest passenger vessel M.V. Kavarathi docked at Cochin Shipyard since the first week of January for repair that is expected to last more than three months, the travel woes of islanders who shuttle between Kavarathi and Kochi have increased manifold.

Travel between the islands and mainland Kochi requires long wait for ships, which often do not stick to the schedule.

Though the Union Territory has 25 ships, which include 17 passenger vessels, four cargo vessels, two tugs, one tanker, and one LPG cylinder carrier, there are widespread complaints that they cancel schedules frequently without advance information. The vessels are the lifeline of Lakshadweep islands and lack of online facility to book and cancel tickets adds to passenger sufferings.

“Those who make bulk booking in advance are not able to make cancellation at the right time because of the lack of online facility. As the bookings remain valid, we are not able to allow other passengers to use the vacant berths,’’ said a senior officer of Lakshadweep administration.

Islanders blame Lakshadweep Development Corporation Limited (LDCL) for their transportation woes. Though it claims itself as the largest passenger vessel management company in the country, LDCL is drawing flak for operating vessels that are not maintained properly and don’t obey time schedule. Apart from M.V. Kavarathi, eight other passenger vessels are undergoing short-term- and long-term repair works.

Irked over LDCL and Lakshadweep Administration’s neglect, various passenger bodies are on the path of agitation. According to them, it is quite common for islanders to get stranded in Kochi during festival seasons unable to get tickets to travel back to their islands.

According to Komalam Koya, a rights activist from the islands, it is not just about the lack of sufficient ships but the lack of efficiency in maintaining existing ships. “The ship operation was quite trouble-free when the Shipping Corporation of India managed the whole operations,” he said.

According to Mohammed Iqbal, a teacher from the islands, boosting the morale of officials of LDCL by providing them standard salary remains vital to enhancing the quality of vessel operations between Kochi and the islands. “While the ground staff gets good remuneration, those who work on ships and other vessels are not paid properly,” he said.

On its part, Lakshadweep Development Corporation Limited cite fall in the number of ships available and rise in demand for seats because of various festival seasons as the reasons for the crisis.

Abdul Nazer, a resident of Kavarathy, counters it. “They think there is demand for tickets to the islands only during festival times. But there are over 4,000 students from the islands studying in various educational institutions in Kerala. Many others frequent hospitals in Kochi. They all require tickets on short order.”

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