Beginning November, international passengers travelling to India on cruise ships will be able secure e-visas as the central government looks to improving passenger experience. A number of other measures are set to be implemented from the season that begins in November as the government attempts to boost cruise tourism. Currently, individuals belonging to a host of nations who intend to make casual, recreational, medical and business trips are eligible to apply for e-visas. The facility will be extended to cruise ships travelling towards India as well.
After the consultants, Beremello, Ajamil and Partners, projected in a report earlier this year that the country’s ports have the potential to attract 4.5 million cruise ship passengers by 2042-43, the Centre constituted a task force comprising secretaries of shipping and tourism ministries to work on an action plan.
In 2016-17, Indian ports handled 158 cruise ships and a total of 1.91 lakh passengers. Of these, Mumbai port alone accounted for 51 ships and 57,076 passengers, according to official data.
A committee has been set up within the task force to chalk out the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for all stakeholders. It is headed by Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) Chairman Sanjay Bhatia. The committee, which is to draft a new SOP for the coming season, held its first meeting last week. “E-visa is available in only a few countries at present and we are starting it here for cruise passengers,” Bhatia said.
He added that cruise ships headed towards Indian ports would be equipped with facilities to enable international passengers to apply for e-visas on board three days prior to their arrival. Once the vessel docks at the port, all that a passenger would be required to do is record biometrics with the Bureau of Immigration (BoI), Bhatia said.
New cruise terminals have been planned at the Mumbai, Goa, New Mangalore, Cochin and Chennai ports. The MbPT has invited tenders for the construction of a 34,000 sqm terminal equipped to process large cruise ships, carrying 4,000 passengers. It is estimated to cost Rs 197 crore.
The consultant has also stated in its report that the BoI and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which handles port security, will collaborate and convert their current manual process of passenger verification to a digital one that will save time. The SOP that Bhatia’s committee is working on will also include electronic access control for the CISF in the new terminal and green and red custom declaration channels. “It will be just like an airport terminal,” added Bhatia.
One berth at each port will be dedicated for the use of cruise ships. The existing policy that requires shipping firms to submit arrival schedules two years ahead of time is set to be done away with. Ousting charges for cruise ships have already been waived.
The Centre has also done away with cabotage for foreign cruise ships allowing Indian passengers to board vessels at any port.
In the last tourist season between November 2016 and March 2017, the Coast Neo Classica, operated by Italian cruise liner Costa Cruises, made MbPT its homeport for seven voyages.
Bhatia added that an e-landing card system is also ready eliminating the need for cruise vessels to secure landing permits at each Indian port of call. He said once the SOPs are decided for each agency, several reforms would be put into practice from November.