According to several news sources, passenger ferries could be set to run between Florida and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years after the U.S. government approved 5 new ferry services on May 5, 2015. The U.S. Treasury granted licenses to at least five American companies to operate ferry services to Cuba for the first time in more than a half century, potentially bringing the former Cold War antagonists closer. These companies include Airline Brokers Co. of Miami, Baja Ferries USA, Havana Ferry Partners, United Caribbean Lines and America Cruise Ferries of Puerto Rico. Services between the two countries had stopped in 1960 when the U.S. imposed a trade embargo on Cuba. However, the U.S. announced the restoration of diplomatic ties in December 2014, an issue I have blogged on before.
President Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at April's Summit of the Americas
These granted licenses do not necessarily mean that ferries will start launching for Cuban shores any time soon, as there are bureaucratic hurdles to overcome in both countries. The proposed ferry services must still obtain Cuba’s approval, but certainly, the U.S. move clears the way for negotiations. It is unclear at this point how receptive Cuba’s government would be, as it seeks to balance economic benefits with concerns that any sudden change could endanger the island’s one-party rule.
The proposed ferry services would be able to take passengers in 12 approved categories, including family visits, educational, cultural and religious activities. While President Obama has eased restrictions on travel between the two countries, tourism is still not permitted. The idea set out by the ferry services is to attract passengers with tickets that are cheaper than airplane fares and large free baggage allowances. It is difficult to see how the ferry services can state they are able to offer cheaper prices than the airlines, when they do not know the costs on the Cuban side of the equation.
There could be a further stumbling block on this idea, as it is reported in the Miami Herald that Cuba does not allow people born on the island to arrive or depart from Cuba by water. Cuba would need to change that law if these ferry operators hope to be able to undertake these services.
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