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Now, Kerala plans cruise submarine to woo tourists

By Usha Ram Manohar in Kochi
September 30, 2005 11:31 IST
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Imagine a cruise in a submarine where one can view the breathtaking life under water and beauty of the sea bed.

That is what Kerala plans to do to take tourism to a new height in 'God's own country.'

The tourist submarine project, envisaging a direct experience for tourists of the underwater world, is awaiting clearance from the Director General of Shipping, according to project promoters -- Pioneer Underwater Tours CEO K Bhaskaran and Kerala state Inland Navigation Corporation managing director K N Sateesh.

Though permission from the Navy and Coastguard have already been received, clearance from the Director General of shipping is yet to come, they told PTI.

"We are awaiting government clearance for the past four months. The plan is to bring the submarine in November. The government has to frame rules to register the submarine under Indian flag," Bhaskaran said.

The submarine, costing about Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million), is being built in Finland and is expected to be ready by October. The company has already paid about 20 per cent of the cost and is planning to raise funds from overseas as Indian banks have shied away from the project, Bhaskaran said.

KSINC will take care of infrastructure facilities like providing boats for taking the passengers to and fro the jetty to the submarine and its maintenance and marketing, Sateesh said.

The marine leisure segment is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry as is evident from the success and growth of aquariums and marine parks, cruise ship industry and seaside destination resorts, Sateesh said.

Tourist submarines are entirely non-polluting with battery-powered electric thrusters that emit no hydrocarbons or other effluents. The submarines operate at low speeds and are extraordinarily manoeuverable so that they never come in contact with coral reefs or marine life, he said.

If the green signal is received from DG, Shipping, the tourist submarine would be the first to operate in the country. A similar vessel is operating in the Maldives.

The submarine would operate to a maximum depth of 300 feet with 24 passengers and two crew members. External lighting, VHF, through water communications, underwater video and obstacle avoidance sonar systems would fitted on the vessel, Sateesh said.

Each passenger would have to pay between Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 for a three-hour ride in the submarine, which would include to and fro journey towards the craft.

The most successful tourist submarine operating today has gross revenue of $1 million per month derived from a single 48 passenger submarine and associated souvenir sales, Bhaskaran said.

Annual net pre-tax revenue from this operation is in excess of $7 million. The profits are based on a 10 to 12 dive per day schedule, 330 operating days per year, a 90 per cent passenger load factor and a ticket price of $95, Bhaskaran said.

Across the world, interest in the underwater world is growing rapidly. Travel tourism is the world's largest single employer representing 6 per cent of the world's population with an annual turnover of $2 trillion.

According to Sateesh, the overall length of the submarine would be 12.0 m, width 2.4 m. The height of the deck would be 2.65 m while the draft on surface would be 2.0 m. The maximum operating depth of craft would be 100 m, its payload capacity would be 1750 kg.

The submarine's life support system consists of oxygen, carbon dioxide and air conditioning system. The oxygen system is capable of supplying oxygen at the rate of 28 litres per hour per person. The capacity of the system is 72 hours in emergency operations.

The levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and flammable gases will be monitored continuously with gas analysers. Any high or low level concentration would be indicated to the pilot with an audible and visible alarm, he said.

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Usha Ram Manohar in Kochi
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