A one-of-kind, twin-hull cruise ship has been sold by casino magnate Stanley Ho to mainland tycoons, and will set sail from Hung Hom in Hong Kong on Thursday - its maiden voyage under new ownership.
Buyer Huang Wejian and other businessmen from Wenzhou city in Zhejiang had set up the Hong Kong-based China Cruises last year to purchase the vessel, which Ho called the Asia Star, for US$65 million, said company spokesman Cai Yuanyou .
The Finland-made ship, originally named the Radisson Diamond, was run by Asia Cruises and remains stationed in Hong Kong. It has 12 decks, 170 guest rooms and can hold 400 people.
The new Wenzhou owners renamed the ship China Star. The ship will begin offering a two-day cruise in the coming month, taking passengers out to sea from Hung Hom for 1,200 yuan (HK$1,480) or more.
If mainland authorities permit, more routes will be launched starting from May for destinations overseas and within China, such as Xiamen , Shanghai, Qingdao, Shenzhen, Tianjin and Taiwan.
'The China Star will be a high-end business and entertainment venue that will have standard cruise amenities and [will] be a platform for Chinese mainland culture,' Cai said.
The spokesman said China was a booming market for cruises, as more people in the region had the financial capacity to travel.
The acquisition of the China Star, according to Cai, is the first step in the businessmen's ambitious plans to build a 'cruise ship empire'.
'We are very confident [in this plan], as the government has encouraged economic development in the maritime sector in recent years,' he said. 'Our company is going to invest about 1.5 billion yuan to buy four or five cruise ships soon. After that, we will have the first cruise fleet on the mainland with a passenger capacity of thousands of people.'
Future plans include running cruise routes from the mainland to places such as South Korea, Japan and Russia, Cai says.Mainland media have reported that 223 cruises visited the mainland in 2010, a year-on-year increase of 43 per cent, according to the China Tourism Association.
Governments have also provided strong support to the cruise industry. In August, the ministries of transport and commerce adopted a new policy allowing foreign cruise operators to set up foreign-owned firms in China.
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