It may soon be possible to cruise between Dubai and Karachi aboard Pakistan’s first cruise-ferry service, if transport officials in the country are able to put their plans into action.
Federal Minister for Shipping Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, says the draft Ferry Service Policy will be presented at the next Cabinet meeting. If approved, Bizenjo will be able to begin negotiations with shipyards for the construction of a cruise ferry to operate the service.
The government of Pakistan is hoping that they will find an investor in the private sector to partner with them on the project. A number of incentives have been included in the draft proposal to this end.
“In the draft policy we have given a wide range of concessions, with a tax holiday up to 2040,” he told the media. “There will also be no taxes on the ferry service or on the purchase of the vessel.”
The plan is to initially launch ferry services between Karchi, Dubai, Iran and Oman. It would need to be a cruise ferry as the voyage between Karachi and Dubai is around 690 nautical miles around the Musandam Peninsula, and would take just over 24-hours at 21-knots.
A cruise-ferry is different from a regular ferry because, as well as space for the storage of passengers’ vehicles, it also has lounges, cafes and cabins where passengers can sleep and relax during the voyage.
Bizenjo wants the service to be privately run, with the government only issuing licenses and providing incentives. The Ministry of Maritime Services has reportedly agreed to provide the hypothetical ferry service with a 4-year stay on port charges.
During former President Pervaz Musharraf’s time in office, a ferry service was launched in Pakistan, but failed due to a lack of rules and regulations regarding such operations. It remains to be seen how much interest there will be from the private sector, as well as the Pakistani public at large.
Pakistan has a troubled history when it comes to maritime transport. In 2005 a ferry operating an internal service within the country capsized due to overloading, leading to the deaths of more than 60 of the 80 passengers on-board.
Bizenjo stressed that the new service would avoid such hazards as it would be run by reputable international investors. “We hope to attract international investors for this service with our rebates,” he said.
There is certainly high demand for direct passenger shipping services between the UAE and Southeast Asia. According to MSC Cruises CEO, Gianni Onorato, cruises to Southeast Asia from Dubai are in “huge demand”.
MSC Cruises will be offering roundtrip cruises from Dubai to India, but these 10-day itineraries are not suitable for the kind of direct one-day passage that a lot of Indian and Pakistani expats in Dubai want as a cheaper alternative to flying.