The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) on Friday approved an application by Star Cruises to operate direct cruises to China without having to stop in a third territory, marking the first time that Taiwan has given the green light to a direct cross-Taiwan Strait cruises.
The MOTC said in a press statement that the one-year license for Star Cruises was issued on a case-by-case basis under regulations governing direct cross-strait shipping links.
A schedule listed in the Star Cruises application said the largest cruise line in the Asia-Pacific would launch direct cruise services between Keelung Harbor and Xiamen, Fujian Province, in the first half of this year.
Despite the nod from Taiwan, MOTC officials said Star Cruises would still have to obtain China’s consent before the proposed Keelung-Xiamen service can begin.
Star Cruises filed the application with the Keelung Harbor Bureau in December, but the screening process turned out to be a frustrating experience for the company, as government officials and the cruise line’s executives disagree over the nature of the service.
MOTC officials said then that that regular cruises between Keelung and Xiamen would constitute marine passenger services, which only Taiwanese vessels or vessels owned by Taiwanese-Chinese joint ventures are allowed to operate under local regulations.
The Hong Kong-based Star Cruises contended, however, that ordinary people are unlikely to use expensive cruises as “passenger services.”
At one point, the company said it might consider withdrawing from the Taiwanese market if the authorities rejected its application to operate the direct Keelung-Xiamen cruise services.
Star Cruises entered Taiwan’s maritime tourism market in 1997, sailing primarily between Keelung and Okinawa. The cruise line stopped sailing this route in October 2005, but resumed the service in June 2007.
The company has been the major player in Taiwan’s cruise market, taking local tourists on cruises to the Japanese islands of Okinawa, Ishigaki and Yonaguri, Taiwan’s Penghu islands and Hong Kong. When the weather turns cold, its ships leave Taiwan to serve Star Cruises’ other Asian routes.
When Star Cruises resumed homeporting in Keelung, Star Cruises’ Taiwan manager Andy Lew openly stated that Star Cruises wanted to launch services from Taiwan to Shanghai and Xiamen — two of China’s port cities.
Taiwan and China reached agreements in November to lift a six-decade ban on direct sea and postal links and to expand air links.
Foreign cruise ships visiting Taiwan now no longer need to sail to a third territory, usually Hong Kong, before they can visit a Chinese port, or vice versa.
Star Cruises contributes at least NT$7 million (US$207,715) in harbor fees a year to the Keelung Harbor Bureau from its homeporting on 80 cruises between March and September.