Thursday launch for first cruise liner

Thursday launch for first cruise liner

Bangalore: MV AMET Majesty, India’s first cruise ship, plans to set sail from its home port in Chennai to destinations in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, as it seeks to tap demand from rich Indian holidayers and provide training to maritime students.

The cruise liner, owned by Chennai-based AMET Shipping India Pvt. Ltd, will initially run a one-night sailing trip on the Chennai high seas starting Thursday, followed by a similar service in Visakhapatnam.

Later, the itinerary will cover Port Blair, Karaikal, Phuket, Langkavi and Trincomalee. The rates vary from 3,900 plus tax per passenger a night to 10,500 plus tax per passenger a night, according to the company.

AMET Cruises is the second cruise liner and the first Indian to start a service after cabinet of ministers approved a cruise shipping policy in June 2008 that provides a zero-tax regime for cruise ship operators.

Louis Cruises, the world’s fifth largest cruise line operator, started services in December 2009, using Cochin as a so-called home port, or a port from where cruise service starts and ends. The cruise liner discontinued service six weeks into its Indian operations, citing high charges levied by the port.

As many as 90,000 Indians go abroad on cruises, said Thomas C. Thottathil, a spokesman for Cox and Kings Ltd. “The market is growing at 15-20% a year," he said.

The ship that can carry as many as 1,000 passengers will also train students graduating from AMET University, a maritime education institute with a deemed university status run by the same company.

It is mandatory for institutes running maritime courses to give on-board training for six months to students who appear for the competency examination conducted by the Directorate General of Shipping, says a maritime regulator.

“Globally, there is a big shortage of sea-time training berths," said. S. Bhardwaj, vice-chancellor, AMET University. “Training by itself is not a viable proposition unless it is combined with commercial operations,” he said by phone from Chennai.

The Directorate General of Shipping has approved the ship in principle to train 90 nautical deck cadets and 120 engineering cadets, Bhardwaj said.

In May, the regulator issued an order allowing Indians to work on national-flagged cruise ships as hotel and entertainment staff, without holding an Indian continuous discharge certificate (CDC).

A CDC certifies that a person holding it is a seaman according to international norms. Every seafarer must carry this document while on board, which is also an official and legal record of sea experience.

In shipping, vessels fly the flag of the country where they are registered. India-registered ships have to hire local crew, according to rules framed by the shipping regulator.

“A cruise vessel needs specially trained hospitality, catering, hotel entertainment personnel to look after the cruises and provide entertainment," S.B. Agnihotri, director general of shipping, wrote in the 16 May order.

Currently, no Indian CDCs are issued for the above category of ship crew. Hence, there is a dearth of trained and experienced personnel holding Indian CDCs for the above crew category for cruise vessels.