Luxury cruise lines to help build ties between mainland and Taiwan

08:27, September 28, 2010      

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A luxury cruise liner carrying 1,000 bronze figurines of Guanyin, or the Goddess of Mercy, set sail from East China's Zhejiang province on Monday on a direct cross-Straits voyage to Taiwan that is intended to promote cross-Straits cultural and religious exchanges.

The Costa Classica cruise ship, scheduled to arrive at the port of Keelong on Tuesday morning, also carried with it 1,500 local residents and Buddhist disciples who escorted the Buddhist figures to the island.

Before the trip, the 1,000 figures of Guanyin received the ceremony of consecration at Putuo Mountain that is thought to be home of Guanyin. The statues will be presented to 1,000 Buddhist temples in Taiwan, and Buddhist disciples across the Straits will hold prayer ceremonies for world peace and prosperity on Wednesday morning before sailing back that night.

"We hope this unprecedented trip will help promote cross-Straits religious and cultural exchanges," said Buddhist monk Jing Min, who is also deputy director of the Buddhist Association of Putuo Mountain in Zhejiang.

The trip also marked the beginning of direct luxury cruises between Taiwan and Zhoushan, which is among the 68 Chinese mainland ports opened for direct shipping service with Taiwan under earlier agreements between the mainland and Taiwan.

On Nov 4, 2008, the mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits and the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation signed protocols on direct shipping, air transport and postal services, which allowed regular civilian planes and ships to directly cross the Taiwan Straits. On Dec 15, 2008, the "three direct links" were formally launched, ending a 59-year ban.

Under the initial agreement, the mainland opened 63 ports to Taiwan ships while Taiwan opened 11, and the mainland has so far increased its number of ports to 68.

Despite the booming regular shipping services across the Straits, direct luxury cruises traveling between the mainland and Taiwan have so far been few as major international luxury liners still have to gain approval from the two sides before operating cruises.

Fu Kaiming, deputy director of Zhoushan Tourism Investment and Development Co Ltd, said luxury cruises are a new form of travel that has the potential of huge growth in the future.

"Compared to air flights, a luxury liner is a destination in itself as it enhances traveling experiences for visitors," he said, adding that judging from the responses from visitors, luxury cruises are warmly welcome.

He also said Zhoushan is set to launch direct and regular cross-Straits luxury cruises in the near future when it improves local port infrastructure and gains approval from the authorities.

According to earlier media reports, Costa Cruises, the Italian luxury cruise company, will operate another direct cruise from Shanghai to Taiwan next month.

The company also facilitated the first cross-Straits luxury cruise in 2009 when it operated three direct cross-Straits voyages for thousands of top sales representatives from direct-selling company Amway to visit Taiwan from the mainland.

Since 2009 the company has also been operating regular Taiwan cruises for mainland tour groups departing from Hong Kong.

By Qian Yanfeng, China Daily


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