Mumbai Port Trust changes track to concentrate on cruise

Credit: Shirish Nadkarni

The 75,000 gt Costa Victoria arrived in Mumbai on 8 November, in preparation for offering cruises between India and the Maldives, lasting between three and seven days, in the next four months until February 2020.

This is the fourth season that the Italy-based Costa Cruises will be homeporting a ship at Mumbai, one of India’s oldest ports, that has chosen cruise over cargo as its main business activity and also seeks to monetise its vast real estate assets.

“Cruise tourism is currently one of the fastest developing verticals in the tourism sector in India,” said Indian shipping minister Mansukh Mandaviya, who presided over the function to launch the Indian season of the ship.

“Over the years, cruise tourism has been recognised as an active component in the economic growth of any country, and we also see it as a major source of employment because of its labour-intensive nature and the significant multiplier effect on employment in related sectors.”

Sanjay Bhatia

Sanjay Bhatia, chairman of Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT), added, “This is the ideal time for cruise liners to come to India as the government authorities are taking proactive steps to finally use our long coastline. As for Mumbai Port, we realised that containerised import cargo meant for Mumbai city, and export cargo moving out of Mumbai, could be better handled at Jawaharlal Nehru Port, barely 35 km from the city. Instead, we have decided to concentrate on cruise tourism, and are looking forward to homeporting many more ships and rebuilding Mumbai as a leading port of India.”

A short while ago, India’s first luxury cruise ship, Karnika, had returned to its home port of Mumbai after spending nearly four months in the Middle East between the end of May and mid-September, offering cruises to and from Dubai. “We carried 43,500 passengers during the four months that we operated out of Dubai, which was a substantially less figure than the complement of 80,000 that we could have carried,” said Jurgen Bailom, president and CEO of Zen Cruises, which is operated by Jalesh Cruises, a constituent company of Subhash Chandra’s Essel Group.

“We will now service the Indian market for the next six months until end of March 2020, cruising along the Indian western coast, offering packages of two nights and three days as well as three nights and four days to destinations such as Goa, Ganpatipule, and Diu, as also pleasure cruising on the high seas to and from Mumbai.”


Changing Mumbai port

The first tiny step in turning Mumbai into India’s hub for cruise tourism was taken in October 2018, with the formal inauguration of MbPT’s domestic cruise terminal.

The three-story terminal, set on a plot of 7,000 m2, and with a built-up area of 660 m2, was one of the five projects to be inaugurated that day, among the 27 ambitious projects that seek to change the very nature of Mumbai port.

At the moment, official statistics have placed the number of cruise ships visiting India during financial year 2017–18 at 136. The six ports of Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi, Kolkata, New Mangalore, and Mormugao logged a total of 162,000 cruise passengers.

“We are in the process of building a world-class international cruise terminal on an area of 38,500 m2, with operational area of 15,800 m2, and capable of handling 200 cruise ships and 700,000 passengers per annum,” said Bhatia.

“It was delayed by a stay order obtained from the Bombay High Court but is expected to be ready by end-2019. We are equipping it with every facility that will add to the comfort of the cruise tourist to India.

“We have also introduced an air-conditioned catamaran service on the run from Apollo Bunder, next to the Gateway of India, to Elephanta so that tourists can enjoy the beauty and mystery of the Elephanta Caves, which are a part of our rich heritage.”

Bhatia said that, as a source market for cruise tourism worldwide, the volume of cruise travellers sourced from Asia had quadrupled since 2012. India was keen to cash in on the international cruise tourism market, which has seen travellers seeking new cruise experiences in exotic locations, with Asian ports gearing up to welcome 7,100 cruise calls over the next few months.

Mumbai Port has been seeking to make a big splash in the world of cruise tourism since the early years of the present millennium, after setting up of the first cruise committee in 2004. But endless discussions, followed by little action, and a vast amount of bureaucratic red tape have prevented the port from making much headway in its objective.

“However, there have been definite positive changes between that period and now,” said Keki Master, senior vice-president of J. M. Baxi & Co, which has been the local agent for 80% of the cruise lines that have come to India. Master, incidentally, has also been a member of the committee set up by the Ministries of Tourism and Shipping for promotion of cruise tourism at Indian ports.

Keki Master

“There have been several cruise lines that want to call at Mumbai and make it their home port. The government is also interested in this proceeding, but there have been several hiccups, including problems with immigration and customs. Immigration facilities, however, have been improving, and we have rarely had problems with customs,” Master added.


Further construction planned

Among the facilities created to promote transport by sea has been a ro-pax berth, spanning an area of approximately 6,000 m2, with a dedicated berthing area of 100 m. It has a rotating capacity of 120 cars and 18 buses or trucks, and a passenger capacity of up to 300,000 per annum.

Also of assistance in making Mumbai an attractive tourist destination for cruise passengers is the construction of a 250-seat amphitheater, a waterfront skating rink, walkways, joggers’ paths, cycling track, a 2,000 m² seaside restaurant, a floatel (floating hotel-cum-restaurant) on seaside land at Prince’s Dock, owned by MbPT, and also a marina and a marina hospitality centre.

Among other projects being implemented by the MbPT to enhance cruise tourism is a ropeway between Sewree and Elephanta, which houses caves that have been declared a United Nations heritage site.

The requests for qualification for the 8 km-long ropeway, which is to be built at a project cost of USD110 million, have already been approved by the MbPT board. The project has a target completion date of 31 August 2021.