Three passenger ferries sailed from Taiwan Province to the mainland on Tuesday in the first direct crossing between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits in half a century.
Two boats, "Tai Wu" and "Wu Chiang," carrying a total of 192 passengers, made a two-hour voyage from the Jinmen (Kinmen) Island to the booming southern Fujian port of Xiamen.
Earlier, "Taima," sailing from the island of Matsu with 500 followers of a Taoist sea goddess on board, arrived in Mawei Island, down river from Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province.
"This trip will help not just Jinmen and Xiamen, but also the overall state of relations between Taiwan and the mainland," Jinmen county magistrate Chen Shui-tsai said as he landed on Xiamen.
"Xiamen and Jinmen face a great economic future together," said Chen, the highest-level Taiwan official on board, who is expected to stay in the mainland for four days and three nights and visit several cities in Fujian.
The arrivals signaled the start of the first direct links between the mainland and the island province since 1949.
"Mini-links" in three areas -- direct transport, trade and postal services -- between the two islands and the cities of Fuzhou and Xiamen were approved by Taiwan authorities last month.
"I think if we carry on frequent exchanges, (complete links) could become a reality soon," said Chen En-tsu, a member of the Jinmen county council, who was part of the delegation. "I have a lot of confidence in this, because it's an unavoidable trend."
Chen Shui-tsai, the Jinmen county commissioner, also said he expected intensified exchanges in the future.
"The three small links are just the first step going forward, we will bring about complete links," he said.
The two vessels were greeted by a crowd of up to 300 people, and women from the Jinmen Island Friendship Association carrying two large bouquets of flowers, as they approached shortly before noon in sparkling sunshine.
As the two vessels docked, local TV crews were standing ready for live reporting.
The voyage is crucial as it is the first direct sailing from Jinmen to Xiamen after 51 years of separation," Chen said.
"Hopefully the contact will lead to the restoration of rapprochement talks" between Taiwan and the mainland, he said.
On arrival, the passengers quickly passed through Xiamen customs procedures, and were then taken in four tourist buses to a welcome lunch organized by local authorities.
The other passengers arriving at Mawei were to board buses for a trip to Meizhou Island, which is believed to be the home of the sea goddess Matsu, one of Taiwan's most important folk deities.