Passengers wave goodbye to those seeing them off on a ferry to Matsu from Fuzhou, Fujian province, on Sunday. (JIANG KEHONG/XINHUA)
Tickets limited to certain residents, as Taiwan seeks to limit virus spread
The ferry services between the coastal areas of Fujian province and the outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu, which are governed by Taiwan authorities, resumed over the weekend after a suspension of nearly three years.
A ferry departed Kinmen for Xiamen at 10:30 am on Saturday with 25 passengers on board, and returned to Kinmen with 65 passengers at 12:30 pm, completing the first round-trip.
The first ferry trip between Matsu and Fuzhou, capital of Fujian, took place on Sunday. At 10 am, a boat carrying 30 people departed from Matsu, and returned in the afternoon with 14 people.
Long Mingbiao, deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, and other mainland officials visited the port in Xiamen on Saturday to welcome Taiwan compatriots taking the first trip and to express Spring Festival wishes.
The ferry has been suspended for three years, causing great inconvenience to Taiwan compatriots, especially Kinmen residents, he said.
Chen Fu-hai, county head of Kinmen, who took the first ferry to Xiamen to welcome residents back, said the ferry services are meaningful to the county, and with it, Kinmen connects the mainland and Taiwan.
"I am happy as I no longer need to travel all over to get home," said Kinmen resident Hsu Kai-hsiang, who took the ferry. During the suspension, he had to travel first to Taiwan Island and then back to Kinmen, which was a waste of both time and money.
The ferry services, which were launched in 2001, were suspended by the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party in February 2020 as part of COVID-19 pandemic prevention and control measures.
By February, 2020, over 22 million passengers had traveled via the routes since the services entered operation in January, 2001.
The island authorities announced last month that ferry journeys would resume from Jan 7 to Feb 6 so that people from Kinmen and Matsu working on the mainland are able to return to their hometowns during the Spring Festival holiday.
Current restrictions exclude Taiwan residents on the mainland from taking the ferry to Kinmen or Matsu, from where they can fly back to Taiwan. The DPP authorities claimed the arrangement is necessary to address concerns over COVID-19 spreading during the stopovers.
Wu Chia-ying, honorary president of the Taiwan Businessmen Association in Xiamen, said under the limited ferry services, many Taiwan residents will have to choose other means to return home that cost more time and money.
As air tickets are difficult to book, many are likely to miss the chance of reuniting with their families on the island, he added.
Long, from the Taiwan Affairs Office, said that although the resumption marked a small step forward, it still falls short of expectations.
With Spring Festival approaching, many Taiwan compatriots hope to use the ferry to facilitate travel across the Taiwan Straits, he said.
"They hope to return to their hometowns and reunite with families. Public wishes shouldn't be ignored," he added.
Long hoped that people from all walks of life will continue to appeal for the full resumption of the ferry services at the earliest possible date.