A high-speed ferry carrying 360 passengers departed yesterday from Taichung for Meizhou Island off the coast of China’s Fujian Province, making it the first Taiwanese passenger ferry to sail directly across the Taiwan Strait to a Chinese port.
The Ocean Lala, a 2,292-tonne ferry built in Singapore, was mostly carrying pilgrims connected to the Da Jia Jenn Lann Temple in Taichung County.
The pilgrims were escorting two statues of the goddess Matsu (媽祖) from Jenn Lann Temple to the original Matsu temple in Meizhou.
Known as the “Mecca for Matsu followers,” Meizhou has long been considered the “home” of Matsu — a young woman who legend says was deified after being born into a fisherman’s family in Meizhou and later sacrificing her life to save her father and brothers.
The annual procession to honor Matsu — the guardian of fishermen and sailors and the most popular folk deity in Taiwan — has been observed for more than a century. Normally starting from Jenn Lann Temple, it draws thousands of followers.
After ending their pilgrimage to Meizhou, the Matsu followers will return home by plane with the Matsu statues on their special palanquins, said Cheng Ming-kun (鄭銘坤), pilgrimage leader and a vice chairman of Jenn Lann Temple.
Jenn Lann Temple chairman and Independent Legislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), who was paroled on Thursday after having been in prison since August for illegal possession of firearms, saw off the pilgrims in Taichung.
The Ocean Lala was scheduled to return to Taichung Harbor at around 9pm yesterday carrying Chinese tourists, harbor authorities said.
Previously, under Taiwan’s expanded “small three links” formula, the ferry was forced to use Penghu — about 41km off the southwest coast — as a transit stop before continuing to China.
Direct passenger shipping links were opened after the second round of cross-strait talks held in Taipei on Nov. 4.
Although the company that owns the ferry obtained permission from Taiwanese authorities to make four charter trips between Taichung and Fujian early this year, China only gave the company the green light this month.
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