Taiwan, China swimmers launch cross-strait relay

Straits separating Taiwan and China.

TAIPEI - Fourteen people on Monday began the first relay swim across the 132-kilometre (82 mile) strait separating Taiwan and China, risking strong currents and shark attacks over some three days, organisers said.

The swimmers -- seven each from Taiwan and the mainland -- started the maritime challenge around noon from the beach off Hsinchu, a city in northern Taiwan, said the Taipei-based swimming promotion club Master Swimming Taiwan.

It said the group was expected to arrive at Pingtan, an island off China's southeastern province of Fujian, late on Thursday if all goes smoothly.

Three boats carrying medical staff will accompany them.

"Strong currents of the Taiwan Strait are notorious and (pose) great physical challenges to the swimmers. They are also equipped with gear to protect them from shark bites," Lin Tien-chin, the head of the club, told AFP.

He said the event would "help facilitate civil exchanges between the two sides".

The Hsinchu-Pingtan route is the shortest distance across the strait, which has separated Taiwan and the mainland geographically and politically since the end of a civil war in 1949.

However, ties between the former rivals have improved markedly since the Beijing-friendly Ma Ying-jeou came to power in Taiwan in 2008. He was re-elected in 2012.