Published on Wednesday, May 6, 2015

US government approves first wave of Cuba ferry services

Despite Republican moves to block any further easing of travel restrictions to Cuba, the US Treasury Department has started issuing licenses for passenger ferry services to Cuba.

Service has been approved for Mexico based shipping firm Baja Ferries with other competing operators also thought to have been issued licenses, according to Robert Muse, a lawyer for Baja Ferries.

"The ships are ready to go," Muse told Reuters.

"This is a further step in bringing Cuba and the United States closer together."

The company said it aims to run services out of Miami, Key West and Port Manatee in Tampa Bay.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which handles economic and trade sanctions, declined to say how many ferry companies have so far been approved.

"I can confirm that OFAC has issued certain specific licenses for passenger ferry service, but we cannot provide additional details as to whom or how many," said OFAC spokeswoman Hagar Chemali.

She added that current restrictions limiting travel to Cuba only for 12 pre-defined reasons such as family visits and educational activities remain in force.

All US based ferry companies still need to obtain approval from the Cuban government before starting operations.

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