Ferries with both passengers and cargo on board may soon sail between Florida and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.
The U.S. government granted licenses to at five companies, Baja Ferries USA, Airline Brokers Co. of Miami, United Caribbean Lines, Havana Ferry Partners, and America Cruise Ferries of Puerto Rico, to start offering ferry service.
Some of the firms announced they could begin their operations within week. Among the departure ports being considered are Miami, Port Everglades, Key West and Tampa-area ports.
In the 1950s prior to the Cuban Revolution, ferries used to frequently sail the waters between Miami, Key West, Miami Beach, and Havana, carrying Cubans to the United States and Americans to Havana, where they got a taste for the nightlife of the city. Currently, the Cuban government is very interested in facilitating access for its rapidly growing tourist industry.
Before any service can start, the U.S. Coast Guard must give its approval to the potential Cuban ports, while the companies must negotiate issues like dock access with the Cuban government.
The United States still doesn’t allow its citizens to go to Cuba for vacation, but it allows family trips and professional, educational, and other purposeful visits as long as it complies to 12 approved categories.
President Barack Obama pushed forward a new policy of reconciliation with Cuba on Dec. 17 and aims to resume diplomatic relations. The White House leader also announced plans for increased travel to Cuba and expanded commerce. Farm equipment and seeds as well as tools and construction materials are allowed by Washington but only if they are destined for private hands.
“This not only opens up new travel possibilities but it enhances cargo capacity,” said attorney Robert Muse, who represents Baja Ferries USA. The current regulations, however, don’t permit the transportation of motor vehicles, so cars are banned on ferries for the moment.
Because Baha Ferries is a operational ferry company which provides service between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and in Mexico, “they can move very quickly on this. They can go right into negotiations with Cuba,” Muse added. Baja Ferries wishes to offer overnight service to Cuba, probably from of a South Florida port.
Fort Lauderdale’s Havana Ferry Partners wants to start ferry service between Key West and Havana as soon as possible, and it eventually wants to expand its operations to Miami and possibly Tampa.
Image Source: Progreso Weekly