At the 16th SAARC Summit held in Thimphu, Bhutan, from April 28 to 29, 2010, the SAARC leaders called for collaborative efforts to achieve greater intra-regional connectivity and endorsed the recommendation to declare 2010-2020 as the “Decade of Intra-regional Connectivity
In line with the mandate given by the SAARC leaders, the fourth meeting of the SAARC Inter-Governmental Group on Transport held in New Delhi, India on November 22, 2010, considered the proposal of the Maldives on operating Indian Ocean cargo and passenger ferry and recommended that a ferry service for passengers and cargo may be launched, initially on a sub-regional basis including India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Eventually, the ferry service would connect points along the South Asian coastline from Karachi to Mongla/Chittagong. The aim of the project is to provide a regular cargo and passenger ferry network promoting the idea of one SAARC, giving opportunity for sharing the rich cultures, trade and development.
Accordingly, Kathmandu SAARC Secretariat conducted a study on Indian Ocean cargo and passenger ferry service with the financial and technical assistance of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Manila.
In order to move forward in launching the ferry service, on December 1, 2016, Sri Lanka Ports and Shipping Ministry Secretary L.P. Jayampathy will inaugurate the SAARC-ADB meeting of experts from India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka to be held in Colombo from December 1 to 2, 2016 to review the study on SAARC cargo and passenger ferry service.
The meeting will be organised by Ceylon Shipping Corporation Ltd in coordination with the Sri Lanka External Affairs Ministry and Kathmandu SAARC Secretariat with the support of ADB. The inaugural session of the meeting will also be addressed by Ceylon Shipping Corporation Ltd Chairman Shashi Dhanatunge and Kathmandu SAARC Secretariat Director Energy, Transport and Science and Technology Ali Haider Altaf.
Representatives of the private sector in Sri Lanka willing to operate a ferry service have been invited to share their experiences in the meeting. SAARC Development Fund (SDF) Chief Executive Officer Dr. Sunil Motiwal is also expected to attend the meeting and discuss prospects of co-funding for launching the much-awaited ferry service in the region. An expert from Global Maritime and Ports Services Pte Ltd (GMAPS), Singapore, which conducted the study, will also be attending the meeting to make a presentation on the study and to answer queries of the participants from member states.
It has been proposed that initially the ferry may connect Ports in Malé, Cochin, Tuticorin and Colombo. All technical details and routes would be discussed during the above meeting.
The study group intends to handover the finalized report at the end of the session to Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga and SAARC Secretariat Director at a special ceremony on December 2, 2016, at Hilton Colombo Residences.