Carnival Corp has confirmed its new Cuba cruise itinerary as US regulations governing passenger-ship calls to the island continue to ease.
Carnival’s new Fathom brand will begin weekly voyages to Cuba with the 710-passenger Adonia in May 2016. The cruise owner announced on 30 September that the itinerary would include two days in Havana, as well as calls in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.
Carnival’s announcement comes shortly after an easing of rules by the US Treasury Department. As of 21 September, the new rules allow that “transportation by vessel of authorised travellers – between the United States and Cuba only and without stops in third countries – will be authorised by general license. Certain related lodging services aboard vessels used for such travel will also be authorised.”
Although several cruise and ferry companies, including Carnival, had already obtained special licences from the US government for service to Cuba, the latest round of regulatory changes removes additional complications for such operators. “The environment for travel to Cuba has just become even better with the recent changes by the US government,” asserted Carnival Corp CEO Arnold Donald on his company’s 22 September earnings call.
However, there is still a long way to go before the maritime business opens up to the extent that would spur large-scale port infrastructure investments in Cuba. According to a recent client note by law firm Freehill Hogan & Mahar, “While these further amendments liberalise dealings with Cuba by persons under US jurisdiction, they do not lift the Cuban trade embargo, which remains in place. Of particular concern to foreign carriers, the recent amendments do not alter the 180-day rule, which provides that a vessel cannot call at a US port for 180 days after calling at a Cuban port.”
Authorised cruise and ferry vessels are exempt from the 180-day rule, but US and foreign commercial shipping vessels are not. This effectively limits interest in Cuban calls among commercial shipping operators.
According to Freehill Hogan & Mahar, the 180-day rule cannot be unilaterally changed by the president, but must be repealed by US Congress.
In fact, a push is now under way in Congress to repeal the 180-day rule. An amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2016 was sponsored by Montana senator Jon Tester. It would “repeal the requirement that a vessel entering a port or place in Cuba may not load or unload freight at any place in the US within 180 days”. The amendment survived a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee in July.