Florida-Cuba ferry services given the official go-ahead for US passenger and cargo operators

Posted: 11-May-15 12:48

The US Treasury has granted licences to a number of US-based shipping companies hoping to kick-start the popular ferry routes that operated over 50 years ago. Plans are now in the works to offer passenger services for family, business and approved travel visitors.

Florida-Cuba ferry services given the official go-ahead for US passenger and cargo operators

American visitors are gearing up to set sail for Cuba for the first time in over 50 years, now that the US Treasury Department has approved licences to four companies for passenger ferry services between Florida and Cuba.

It is part of the Obama administration's recently announced plans to ease travel restrictions and normalise US-Cuba relations; the original popular weekend cruises were cut off in the early 1960s after the Cuban Revolution.

Because of the current embargo, passengers travelling from the US to Cuba must be licensed. This includes Cuba-American visitors hopping over to see family, and other Americans visiting for non-tourist reasons, such as educational or cultural reasons or approved trade and public sector business.

The plan overall is to sail to Havana from three locations: Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West. Although the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which handles economic and trade sanctions, went on record to confirm that the licenses had been issued, it didn't confirm how many or name names.

The press has reported, however, that among them were Fort Lauderdale-based Havana Ferry Partners, Miami-based Baja Ferries USA, and Puerto Rico-based America Cruise Ferries. A lawyer who handled the licence for the latter company confirmed that it had indeed been approved.

Each of the companies hopes to have services starting before the end of 2015. Baja Ferries USA's vice-president Joseph Hinson is even more optimistic, saying, "If all goes smoothly we could have things up and running by September." The firm, part of a major shipping group with existing passenger and cargo operations, is looking to offer overnight services three to four days a week.

Both companies are planning to use ships that carry around 1,000 passengers and cargo. Baja Ferries USA's ships would likely have sleeping cabins and dining facilities - whether they would also have the gambling tables made famous on the original 'party cruises' to Havana remains to be seen. America Cruise Ferries is aiming for three services a week between Miami and Havana, using ships with rooms for passengers, vehicles and freight.

Shiny new licences were the first major step forward; although each of them is surely raring to go, now the companies must wait for Florida port officials - and for the Cuban authorities - to grant approval on their side.


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