More tourists go overseas through the seas

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More tourists go overseas through the seas

With vacation season at the door, ferry trips to other countries can be an alternative for budget-conscious travelers. Ferry trips between Korea and neighboring China and Japan have been booming recently.
Recently, at the international passenger terminal in Fukuoka, the biggest island of Kyushu, more than 100 people were waiting for the Kobee express ferry heading to Busan. Some people were holding bundles of packages. A woman in her 30s said she bought accessories in Japan to sell them later in Korea.
“Passengers using the Kobee express ferry totaled 93,000 in 2002 when the service began, but the number of passengers jumped to 139,000 last year,” said Susumu Yatouji, the Fukuoka head of Mirejet Company, which operates the express ferry. “We expect 250,000 passengers this year.”
The express ferry operates three times a day during weekdays and up to eight times during the weekend. About 300 passengers board the ferry in Fukuoka each day during the week; 60 percent of them are Japanese and the rest Koreans.
“The number of Japanese passengers soars during the Golden Week holiday in May, while the number of Korean passengers rises in the winter,” Mr. Yatouji said.
The Kobee express ferry travels up to 83 kilometers (52 miles) per hour, and it takes three hours to reach Fukuoka from Busan. A number of Japanese women take frequent day trips to Busan to go shopping in Korea for the cheaper goods.
“The number of passengers is rising probably because of the simpler customs inspections than that of the airports,” said Ku Bon-hyeong, an executive at Mirejet.
The number of travelers between Busan and Japanese ports including Fukuoka, Simoseki, Osaka, Hiroshima and Tsusima increased to a total of 810,000 last year from 730,000 the previous year.
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In addition to the Korea-Japan sea routes, travelers are taking advantage of the ferries between Incheon and Chinese ports such as Quingdao, Dalian and Dandong.
Recently, at the second international passenger terminal in Incheon, 150 travelers were waiting to board the New Golden Bridge board express ferry to Quingdao. A third of passengers to Quingdao are independent merchants, according to Weidong Ferry Co., the operator of New Golden Bridge ferry.
During the peak season in the summer, the ferries are usually full. “These days, the ferries are packed with groups of students on vacation trips and students studying Chinese,” a customs official said.
The overseas ferries have also contributed to fostering trade ties. About 1,500 peddlers in Incheon are involved in import and export businesses with China.
Thirty employees of Korean Air Lines Co.’s cargo transportation and storage division were headed to Quingdao to study “the possibility of shipping cargo that is transported from the United States and Europe to China,” said Oh Ji-hwan, a manager at Korean Air Lines.
It was not until 2000 that the customs office in Incheon started levying import duties on carried-in goods, partly to protect domestic farmers. Under the customs guidelines, up to 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of goods, or a maximum of five kilograms for a single item, can be brought in without paying import duties.
“I make an average 1.5 million won ($1,294) per month by taking manufactured goods to China and bringing in agricultural products to Korea,” said Kim Yeong-guk, a 45-year-old merchant.

by Oh Day-young, Chung Young-jin
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