Passenger volume on ferries traveling between Pingtan Island in China’s Fujian Province and Taipei Port (台北港) last year rose 8 percent from 2016, despite a decline in the number of Chinese tourists, Taiwan International Ports Corp said yesterday.

Pingtan Island, also known as Haitan Island, is the largest island in Fujian Province and the fourth-largest island in China. It is close to Fuzhou, the capital of the Chinese province.

Beijing in 2009 established a comprehensive experimental zone on the island in a bid to develop a new model of economic exchange with Taiwanese.

Visitors between Taipei and Fuzhou used to depend heavily on air transportation, said Lin Suru (林素如), secretary-general of the company’s branch in Keelung Port, but the emergence of passenger shipping services has changed the dynamics of traveling across the Taiwan Strait for frequent travelers.

Fujian Cross Strait Ferry Corp and Taipei-based Uni-Wagen Marine are the only two ferry operators on the Taipei-Pingtan route, Lin said.

Their ships are the Haixiahao (海峽號) and Natchan Rera (麗娜輪) respectively. The former launched in October 2013, while the latter in May 2014.

The port company’s report showed that 77,389 people accessed the ferry service offered by either of the operators last year.

The service is mostly used by Taiwanese businesspeople and Chinese tourists on package tours, it said, adding that the latter slightly outnumber the former.

Commenting on the mild increase in passengers, Lin said that the distance between Pingtan Island and Taipei Port is about 92 nautical miles (170.4km).

The estimated travel time for ferry travelers is about three hours.

The Natchan Rera leaves Taipei Port on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, and the Haixiahao departs Pingtan Island at noon on Fridays and Saturdays, Lin said, adding that the arrangement allows travelers to plan their tours with flexibility.

As a deep-water port in northern Taiwan, Taipei Port is close to Taipei and New Taipei City and is about a 20-minute drive to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Lin said, adding that the growth in cross-strait passengers would not only boost the economy and tourism in New Taipei City, but it also would provide a stimulus for cross-strait tourism.

The amount of cargo handled at Taipei Port also increased.

Cargo volume in the port’s express delivery zone rose from 90 kg in 2016 to 300 kg last year, Lin said.