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Posted January 24, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Vacation

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By Anthony Boadle | Reuters

Cuba’s cruise business has been been paralyzed by U.S. sanctions that deter cruise ships from visiting during their tours of the Caribbean, the director of Havana’s passenger terminal said on Wednesday.

The cigar and rum shop is closed in the deserted $10 million terminal and no ships are expected to moor for days. Outside, horse and carriage drivers waiting to carry fewer tourists around the colonial streets of Old Havana blame U.S. President George W. Bush for tightening the screws of the trade embargo against Cuba’s communist government.

“The reason is the U.S. blockade, which does not allow ships to visit Cuban ports,” said Jose Antonio Lopez, general manager of the state company that run Cuba’s four cruise terminals.

“This is paralyzed,” he said. “All cruise operators want to come to Havana and thousands of cruises sail around Cuba, but they are penalized if they visit,” Lopez said. “Even the ones most interested in visiting Cuba don’t dare do so.” Under the U.S. Torricelli Act of 1992, ships sailing to Cuba are barred from entering U.S. ports for six months after that. This effectively rules out most of the Caribbean cruise industry, which is based in Miami.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro has not helped much with his criticism of the cruise business. A year before he fell ill and dropped out of public sight in 2006, Castro called cruise ships “floating hotels” that left behind “rubbish, empty cans and paper” but little income.

The Cuban cruise trade peaked in 2005 with 102,440 passengers visiting Cuba on cruisers that put in 122 calls at Cuban ports, Lopez said. Last year that was down to 11,000 visitors from just 23 dockings. Most of them were sailing on the “Holiday Dream,” owned by Spanish operator Pullmantour. But Pullmantour stopped sailing to Cuba in October 2006 after it was bought by Miami-based Royal Caribbean, the world’s second-largest cruise company.

German cruise ships of the Hapag-Lloyd line, owned by shipping and tourism group TUI AG, made 15 calls last year, but dropped Cuba when itinerary changes included a U.S. port, Lopez said.

Notwithstanding Castro’s criticism, the cruise business generated $15 million for Cuba at its height in 2005, from the supply of goods and services including fuel, water and garbage collection to revenue from restaurants, bars, taxis and souvenirs.

Cuba has port capacity to receive 1 million cruise ship passengers a year and can handle 600 port calls, Lopez said.

Havana can dock cruise ships of up to 70,000 tonnes, but a $15 million plan for a new cruiser pier at Casablanca across Havana Bay is on hold.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, editing by Todd Eastham)

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on January 24, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Here’s another version from the Associated Press.

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  2. Follow up post #2 added on January 24, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Here’s the same story from the Cuban News Agency.

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  3. Follow up post #3 added on January 27, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I didn’t look at it this way but maybe Castro wanted to get rid of the cruise ships. Read this story from CNN

    The number of cruise ships visiting Cuba has plummeted nearly 90 percent since 2005, after Fidel Castro complained that the industry did little more than flood the country with trash and a U.S. cruise giant bought out a Spanish company that ran tours to the island.

    Jose Antonio Lopez, general director of Cuban cruise concern Aries SA, said Wednesday that only about 11,000 cruise passengers visited Cuba in 2007, compared to 102,000 two years earlier.

    In May 2005, Castro lashed out at cruise ships, saying “floating hotels come, floating restaurants, floating theaters, floating diversions visit countries to leave their trash, their empty cans and papers for a few miserable cents.”

    “We have told (fellow Caribbean states) that Cuba will not accept cruise ships,” Castro said.

    Barely two months later, Cuba canceled a contract with an Italian company that administered the island’s cruise terminals in a joint-venture with a government-run firm since 1998.

    But Lopez blamed the sharp drop on cruise traffic on Washington’s trade embargo, which prevents U.S. tourists from visiting the island and prohibits nearly all trade between both countries. He said that despite the canceled contract with the Italian company, cruise arrivals to Cuba declined only about 10 percent until October 2006, when Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. bought Spain’s Pullmantur Cruises.

    Royal Caribbean canceled a route that brought a cruise liner called “Holiday Dream” to Cuba, he said.

    “The cause is the blockade and the (U.S.) Torricelli Law which keeps cruise ships from reaching the ports of Cuba,” Lopez told to reporters during a tour of the Havana docks. He said officials only expect about a dozen cruise ships, most operated by British and German firms, to come to Cuba between January and April of this year.

    “Everyone wants to come to Havana but no (company) can because they penalize them,” Lopez said.

    Last year, about 7,000 of the 11,000 cruise ship passengers who visited Cuba docked at the Havana terminal, with the rest arriving at ports in the eastern city of Santiago and the small Isla de la Juventud south of the main island, Lopez said.

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  4. Follow up post #4 added on October 05, 2008 by Peter Ferguson

    I visited Cuba last years out of Montreal Canada, it was a nightmare, I had booked a 2 week all inclusive stay in Cuba, staying at the Hotel Tropicana.. I was robbed on the 3rd night of my visit, all of my money was stolen from my safe in my hotel room.. The police & hotel security basically did nothing about it, I never received the promised police report, nothing was done about my loss from the tour company or otherwise, I lost over $1000 in cash. I have very bad feelings about Cuba travel.
    I would travel to Cuba again, but only in a secure enviroment, which a cruise liner could provide, It is unfortunate that the cruise industry is not offering an alternate way to travel to Cuba?

  5. Follow up post #5 added on October 05, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    of course this could happen in any country in the world (i was robbed in my hotel parking lot in montgomery alabama many years ago) and of course this includes cuba.  Fortunately your experience appears to be the rare exception, or cuba wouldnt have so many repeat visitors.  It appears most crime acts against tourists when it does happen is in the direction of pickpockets, grab and run (a reason not to wear expensive looking jewelry etc.  In cotrast to those happening rarely, shortchanging is unfortunately far too widespread, so its important to count your change.
    Myself i feel (and i’ve heard this from many others), Cuba is one of the safest countries i’ve visited as a tourist.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on October 06, 2008 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    I would not necessarily agree with the statement that Cuba has many repeat visitors, certainly as far as visitors from the UK are concerned. However, short-changing of tourists certainly is - when I am with my wife or relatives it never happens but every time I proffer cash for the airport exit tax I have to ask for change.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on October 06, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    You may be right Cubana about British visitors (and same may apply to other Europeans too)  - I know several but dont really know if that is representative (of course the high cost of getting there may be a factor); I however know of numerous Canadian erpeat visitors.  In fact, when I was asking people to plan for my first trip to Cuba, I was amazed at the number of friends, co-workers etc who have been there numerous times.
    I’d always read that for the 25 CUC exit tax, you need to give exact amount since they don’t give change.
    Glad shortchanging never happens to you, but attempts to shortchange me have happened several times.  Or a few times totalling my restaurant bill to my disadvatage by a CUC, and similar.  Although still rare it is definitely noticeable and to be fair it also has happened to me in other countries too, but more rarely, with only Turkey coming close.

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