The fleet of twelve ferries operates four routes across the harbour, carrying over 70,000 passengers a day, or 26 million a year. Even though there are now other ways to cross the harbour (by MTR and road tunnels), the Star Ferry continues to provide an efficient, popular and inexpensive mode of crossing the harbour. The company's main route runs between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, which is what most people mean by "the Star Ferry" in common parlance.
This route continues to be popular with tourists, and has become one of the icons of Hong Kong heritage. The ferry itself, and the layout of the Kowloon pier are completely recognizable in the 1961 film The World of Suzie Wong. From the ferry, one can take in the famous view of the harbour and the Hong Kong skyline.
Before the steam ferry was created, people would cross the harbour in sampans. In 1870, a man named Grant Smith had brought a twin-screw wooden-hulled boat from England and started running it across the harbour, at irregular intervals.
In July 1873, an attempt was made to run steam ferries between Hong Kong and Kowloon. This was stopped at the time at the request of the British consul in Canton.
The company was originally founded by Parsee merchant Dorabjee Nowrojee as the "Kowloon Ferry Company" in 1888. Nowrojee bought Smith's boat, and later acquired the steam vessels Morning Star and Evening Star from a Mr. Buxoo. It is thought that a regular service to the public was established in the mid-to-late 1870s, after the cession of Kowloon to the British in 1860. The popularity of this means of transport enabled him to increase his fleet to four vessels within 10 years: the Morning Star, Evening Star, Rising Star and Guiding Star. Each boat had a capacity of 100 passengers, and the boats averaged 147 crossings each day. He incorporated the business into the "Star Ferry Co Ltd" in 1898, prior to his retirement to India. The company name was inspired by his love of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Crossing the Bar", of which the first line reads "Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me!".
Nowrojee sold the company to Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf on his retirement.
A pier constructed on the western end of Salisbury Road opened in 1906, but was destroyed by a typhoon in September 1906. In the early 1950s, construction of the present twin-piered terminal commenced on both sides of Victoria Harbour, designed to handle 55 million passenger trips a year. The structure was completed in 1957, concurrent with the Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier was built on the island side.
At the turn of the century, Hong Kong currency and Canton currency were both accepted as tender in Hong Kong. In the autumn of 1912, following a devaluation, the Star Ferry caused a controversy by insisting, together with the tramways, that payment had to be made in Hong Kong currency only. Canton coinage would no longer be accepted.
In 1924 the Yaumati Ferry would operate the route to Kowloon in duopoly. In 1933 the Star Ferry made history by building the Electric Star, the first diesel electric passenger ferry of its kind.
By 1941, the company had six vessels. During the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong, the competing Yaumati Ferry was allowed to continue, while the Japanese commandeered the Star Ferry for their own purposes. The Golden Star and the Meridian Star were used to transport prisoners of war from Sham Shui Po to Kai Tak. In 1943, the Golden Star was bombed and sunk in the Canton River by the Americans, and the Electric Star was sunk in the harbour. After the war, the ferries were dredged up and returned to service.
Until the opening of the Cross Harbour Tunnel in 1972, the Star Ferry remained the main means of public transportation between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon side.
The Star Ferry operates on a franchise from the Government. It was last renewed in March 1998, the year of its centenary.
Several brief scenes are set aboard the ferry in the TV miniseries Noble House.
On 11 November 2006, the end of an era was marked when the third generation pier in Central, the Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, ended its mission, along with the big clock tower. The pier was demolished to make way for reclamation, amidst sentimental objections and some violent protests.
The Star Ferry operates the following cross-harbour routes:
Passengers may use Octopus, or tokens to pay for the ride. Tokens are available in the vending machines at the piers. Coins are also accepted but no change will be provided.
Bicycles (up to 6) are accepted on the lower deck of most routes, for $10.60 (may rise to $13 soon), but not 5-6pm. The Tsim Sha Tsui - Central route does not accept cycles, but the Tsim Sha Tsui - Wanchai route accepts cycles at no extra charge.
Over the years, the fleet has included:
|Morning Star (曉星號)||1888||The first "Star" Ferry|
|Celestial Star (天星號)||1956||Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyard||576||currently the oldest vessel in service|
|Meridian Star (午星號)||1958||Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyard||576|
|Solar Star (日星號)||1958||Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyard||576|
|Northern Star (北星號)||1959||Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyard||576|
|Night Star (夜星號)||1963||Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyard||576||named for original Kowloon Ferry Company's Night Star|
|Day Star (晨星號)||1964||Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyard||576|
|Shining Star (輝星號)||1964||Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyard||576||now used for the Star Ferry Harbour Tour (top sections were opened up)|
|Twinkling Star (熒星號)||1964||Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyard||576|
|Morning Star (曉星號)||1965||Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyard||576||named for original Kowloon Ferry Company's Morning Star|
|Silver Star (銀星號)||1965||Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyard||576|
|Golden Star (金星號)||1989||Wang Tak Engineering & Shipbuilding Ltd||762|
|World Star (世星號)||1989||Wang Tak Engineering & Shipbuilding Ltd||762|
|Glowing Star (耀星號)||Hong Kong Shipyard||288||ex-British Army vessel rented by Star Ferry between 2001 and 2005|