Ocean cruise operators have been left scratching their heads after the Trump Administration revealed plans to restrict non-family travel to Cuba. The decision by the US Treasury and Commerce Department will see all cruise ships operating from the US banned from sailing to any port of the northern Caribbean destination in an effort to starve the island’s communist government.
It’s a backward step from the former Obama Administration which opened the doors for USA-Cuba relations three years ago and consequently saw an influx in cruise companies adding Cuba to their deployment calendars.
Over 142,000 American entered Cuba between January and April, a figure that’s up 300% compared to the previous corresponding period.
“Cuba continues to play a destabilising role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law and suppressing democratic processes,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“This Administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime. These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence and security services.”
The changes take immediate effect, from 5 June 2019.
Additionally, the United States will no longer permit visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vessels, such as yachts and private & corporate aircraft, the State Department said.
Commercial flights from the US will still be permitted.
So why now?
The State Department said “it holds the Cuban regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people, its interference in Venezuela and its direct role in the man-made crisis led by Nicolas Maduro.”
“”Despite widespread international condemnation, Maduro continues to undermine his country’s institutions and subvert the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination. Empowered by Cuba, he has created a humanitarian disaster that destabilises the region.”
“The United States calls on the regime to abandon its repression of Cubans, cease its interference in Venezuela and work toward building a stable, prosperous and free country for the Cuban people.”
Ending Group People-to-People Travel
The new strategy will remove authorisation for group people-to-people educational travel. A “grandfathering” provision will continue to permit the select group people-to-people educational travel previously allowed but only when the traveller has already completed at least one travel related transaction previous to the new policy. These transactions include buying an airline ticket or reserving accommodation in Cuba.
Virgin Voyages’ plans scuppered
Virgin Voyages said it was disappointed by the US Government’s decision.
The start-up cruise line, set to enter service early next year and operate sailings from Miami to the Caribbean, including Cuba, told travel advisors: “If you have a sailor booked on any of our sailings with a stop in Havana, we wanted to let you know we’ll be reaching out to them by email tomorrow. The entire Virgin Voyages crew is working hard on changes to our voyages and we’ll be back in touch next week with full details of Havana’s replacement,” Virgin said.
And CLIA’s response?
Currently, cruise companies including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival operate ships from the United States to Cuba.
In a statement, Cruise Lines International Association said it was yet to fully comprehend the repercussions of the decision.
“CLIA and its Cruise Lines are currently reviewing and working through the details of the Administration’s Cuba policy announcement to better assess the scale and timing of its effect on cruise sailings from the U.S. to Cuba,” the statement said.
Lead image: Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas in Havana