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Friday, 1 May, 1998, 21:00 GMT 22:00 UK
A rough ride for the Star of Hong Kong
Old picture of Star Ferry
After 100 years the ferry is still in business - just
The Star Ferry is one of the best known symbols of Hong Kong, but it is having to face some hard economic realities.

For 100 years this week it has been ferrying commuters and tourists between Hong Kong Island and the tip of the Chinese mainland. To mark its anniversary, passengers are being ferried free of charge on Friday.

But the ferry, which still carries more than 32 million passengers every year, is having to face stiff competition from road and rail tunnels. As the Hong Kong economy is going on a rough ride, so is the Star Ferry.

Ferries
The Star Ferry - a symbol of continuity
During the company's 100 year history, its ferries have faced countless typhoons, civil unrest, and bomb threats. The company was only once forced to stop operating - during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in the World War II.

But the problem from competition has meant that now less people are using the ferry, and this year the company is expecting to operate at a loss. Frankie Yick, the General Manager of the Star Ferry company, said the problem is magnified by a decline in tourism.

"We're experiencing about an eight per cent drop mainly because of the tourists," said Mr Yick.

The BBC Hong Kong Correspondent Jill McGivering said the ferry has become such a potent image of Hong Kong that no-one talks about closing the service.

After Hong Kong was handed back to China last year, the ferry has become an even stronger symbol. One passenger said: "I think even after all the changes in Hong Kong, the Star Ferry is one of the things that's been very, very stable for Hong Kong."

The government is now expects to increase its fares in the coming months.

But the Star Ferry nevertheless expects to increase its fares in the coming months. However, it is still the cheapest way to make the crossing.

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