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People's Daily Online>>China Society

First high-speed ship to Taiwan sails out of Pingtan

By Tan Zongyang and Hu Meidong  (China Daily)

08:59, December 01, 2011

TAICHUNG, Taiwan -After an ear-splitting sound of firecrackers shattered the early silence at Pingtan Island in East China's Fujian province on Wednesday, the ship, Haixia, sailed out of the newly-built Aoqian wharf on its maiden voyage to Taiwan at 10 am, which marked the opening of a new sea route across the Taiwan Straits.

Feng Zhenwei, a 66-year-old passenger from Fuzhou, capital of Fujian, stood on the deck, waving goodbye to the cheering crowds on the shore before the whistle blew.

"I've waited for more than half a century to visit the other side of the Straits. Now the new route brings Taiwan so close to my home," said the retired collage teacher, who was on his first trip to Taiwan.

Feng was among the 550 passengers on Wednesday's trip. After riding the waves for three hours, the ship arrived at the harbor of Taichung, a city on the west coast of central Taiwan, where Feng and his wife would start a 6-day journey on the island. They will return on the same ship.

The vessel, painted blue and white, is 97 meters long and weighs around 6.5 thousand tons. It has 4 decks that can carry 760 passengers and 260 cars. The boat is China's fastest cargo-passenger liner, which was bought from Canada for 300 million yuan ($47 million).

"The ferry feels like a high-speed train racing on the sea," said Ye Huatao, general manager of the Fujian Cross Straits Ferry Corp, a mainland-Taiwan joint venture company that runs the ship.

According to Ye, the average speed of the ship is 65 kilometers per hour, twice that of a regular ship.

Previously, mainland tourists wanting to travel across the Straits by sea could depart only from Xiamen and would have to travel more than 14 hours.

The ticket price ranges from less than $100 to $200, which is a big incentive for travelers, the amount being lower than that of an air ticket.

"The fast ship is very attractive," said Lee Kaikuo, a Taiwan cosmetic dermatologist who has flown frequently between the island and Fujian.

Unlike airplanes, the ship provides free wireless network service and access to telephone signals throughout the journey, which has been hailed by travelers like Lee.

The main passenger deck has a cafe, gift shop, children's play area and lounges, and is equipped with entertainment facilities such as slot machines.

Chen Yangbiao, vice-director of the Fujian provincial tourism bureau, said the ship will also give a boost to tourism in the future.

"We expect that Taiwan residents can ship their private cars to Pingtan and tour around, and vice versa for self-driving enthusiasts from the mainland," he said, but admitted that authorities on either side of the Straits would have to negotiate further to make the idea feasible.

Pingtan Island is the mainland's closest point to Taiwan.

Du Yuansheng, a high-level government official of Pingtan, said the government was hoping to buy or charter three to four similar ships and open more routes to link Pingtan and coastal cities in Taiwan.

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