Mumbai: When the MV Aquamarine sails out of Kochi port for the last time on Saturday, there will no longer be any cruise liner using an Indian port as a home port where services begin and end.
Barely a month-and-a-half after it launched on 2 December, Louis Cruise Lines, the world’s fifth largest cruise line operator, is discontinuing its international cruise operations in India.
The subsidiary of Cyprus-based Louis Plc was using Kochi as a home port for the MV Aquamarine, which has a capacity of 1,250 passengers, and sailed to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Vijay Puthran, head of sales and marketing at Louis Cruises India, confirmed the development to Mint, but declined to give any details.
“We are discontinuing from 16 January. I cannot offer more comments on this,” he said, adding an official statement will be released on Monday.
In a Thursday letter to travel agents, Margaret Sweeney, manager (passenger services) at Louis Cruises India, said, “Due to an increasing number of operational issues, Louis Cruises India will suspend operations out of the port of Kochi with effect from the 17th of January 2010.”
The letter also said a “number of factors made it impossible for the company to overcome the continuous impediments to successfully launching the cruise product” and that it was discontinuing services after reviewing the “hindrance this has played on the quality of product delivery as well as the resulting financial repercussions”.
Mint has reviewed a copy of the letter.
The surprise move also makes the firm the first to suspend operations in India without completing a full season, which runs October through May.
It also means there are no more international cruise lines using an Indian port as a so-called home, or a port from where cruises start and end.
Genting Hong Kong Ltd, formerly Star Cruises Ltd, in 2007 pulled out of Mumbai after operating the Superstar Libra ship for two seasons in 2006 and 2007. Also in 2007, MV Ocean Odyssey, operated by UK-based Cruise Line Ltd, was pulled out of Mormugao Port in Goa.
All three operators have blamed poor demand and the costs of accessing port infrastructure.
“Cruise business is a niche area. The reasons for the failure of these cruises could be infrastructure hindrance in the country. The access to airports, ports and roads for such cruises was very poor until recently, though things are getting better now,” said Mark A. Edleson, president of Alila Hotels and Resorts, a Singapore-based hospitality chain that targets premium guests.
A person close to the development, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the Cochin Port Trust (CPT), which operates Kochi port, was levying $25,000 (around Rs11.5 lakh) per call.
“Louis Cruises India had written to CPT to lower the charges, but the port refused,” he said.
CPT denied the allegations. Jijo Thomas, a public relations officer for CPT, said it was charging only $12,000 per call. Further, he claimed that CPT has not been informed of the discontinuation of the cruise services.
“We were actually offering 33% discount on Tamp-approved rate,” Thomas said, adding that any additional discount would affect CPT’s profitability. Tamp, or Tariff Authority for Major Ports, fixes ceiling rates for ports that are under the Union government.
He said that CPT had informed Louis Cruises India it would be levying a Rs300 per passenger service fee, but did not eventually collect it. However, he claimed that Louise Cruises continued to collect Rs750 per passenger towards service fee.
“Significantly, the tariff and prevailing conditions were there always, (it is) not that it was imposed yesterday,” Thomas said.