|The Haixia makes its inaugural voyage to Taipei from Pingtan in Fujian province on Wednesday. There are now five sea passenger routes between Fujian and Taiwan. LU TING / CHINA DAILY|
High-speed cruise liner Haixia made its inaugural voyage to Taipei on Wednesday, marking the opening of a new sea route across the Taiwan Straits.
Hailed as the world's fastest roll-on, roll-off ship, Haixia left Aoqian wharf in Pingtan county at 9 am and arrived at Taipei harbor three hours later.
Wu Kuo-sheng of Taipei was on deck waving goodbye to the cheering crowds on shore before the ship sailed.
The 54-year-old businessman, whose wife is from Pingtan, said he has been waiting a long time for such a day.
"The Haixia initially only traveled between Pingtan and Taichung in Taiwan, and I had to take a high-speed train to get to Taipei," Wu said.
He said the new route will save him more than two hours' travel time. "The trip makes it much more convenient for our family."
Hsueh Ching-te, a businessman from Taichung, who travels between Fujian and Taiwan regularly, said the route further bridges the geographical gap between the mainland and Taiwan.
In addition to the Pingtan-Taichung route, previous direct sea services linking Fujian province and Taiwan operated between Xiamen and Taichung, Xiamen and Keelung, and Xiamen and Kaohsiung.
With Haixia's maiden trip to Taipei, the number of sea passenger routes between Fujian and Taiwan has reached five, with 17 voyages every week, Hsueh said.
Ai Jun, a finance worker in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province, said he was so excited about the voyage he could not sleep the previous night.
"It is a dream come true, because Taipei has always been on the top of my tourist destination list," he said, adding that he will start a weeklong journey to the island.
Wu and Ai were among about 300 passengers who made Wednesday's trip.
Bought from Canada for 300 million yuan ($49 million), the blue-and-white vessel is 97 meters long and weighs about 6,500 metric tons. With an average speed of 65 kilometers an hour, it has four decks that can carry 760 passengers and 260 cars.
Zhang Bin, a manager of the Fujian Cross Straits Ferry Corp, the mainland-Taiwan joint venture that runs the ship, said the round trip between Pingtan and Taipei will operate on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The usual ticket price is 1,200 yuan, but for the first month passengers only need to pay 640 yuan.
Lin Shuqing of Pingtan, who witnessed Haixia's departure, said the price could add to the allure of the boat trip.
"Compared with a plane, Haixia costs less and has more space. I would consider boarding the ship someday to have a relaxing trip," Lin said.
Gong Qinggai, director of the Pingtan Comprehensive Pilot Zone, said Haixia has played a constructive role in facilitating cross-Straits travel.
On Nov 30, 2011, Haixia made its first direct trip to Taiwan, carrying more than 500 passengers from Pingtan to Taichung. The trip took two hours and 50 minutes.
The ferry made a trial voyage to Taipei on May 22 and the Taiwan authorities approved the route in August.
Since its launch, the ship has transported more than 190,000 passengers, as of mid-September.
Gong said the Pingtan government plans to let Haixia carry cargo on the Pingtan-Taipei route in the future, as it does now on the Pingtan-Taichung route.
He added authorities also hope to open more routes to link Pingtan and Taiwan, enhancing Pingtan's role as a forerunner in cross-Straits exchanges.