International News

Obama Administration Says No to Florida Ferry Service to Cuba

You're going to have to wait for that romantic cruise to Havana. Under President Obama, travel restrictions to Cuba have eased from the Bush years, with new air charters opening routes from Miami and Tampa and even Texas to the island. That thaw, though, apparently doesn't include passenger boats.

After more than a year of stalling, one company in South Florida has finally gotten a firm rejection, with the U.S. Department of State writing that ferries are "beyond the scope of current policy."

The Fort Lauderdale-based Havana Ferry Partners LLC had applied in January to run a one-time ferry to Cuba for pilgrims hoping to catch Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the island, the Cuba Standard reports.

The same company had been frustrated for more than two years, with State Department officials refusing to accept or deny its plans to start a regular ferry route to Cuba. At least four other companies around Florida have also expressed interest in starting a nautical route to the island if the feds would agree to it.

"Are they just burying this in a file?," Leonard Moecklin Sr., the company's managing partner, asked the Sun-Sentinel earlier this month.

Well, now the companies seem to have an answer. In replying to Moecklin's application for a Benedict-specific trip to Havana, the State Department says boats are still a no-go.

Here's their response, via the Cuba Standard:

"To date, only air charter services have been permitted for the transportation of authorized travelers between the United States and Cuba. A White House initiative expanding purposeful travel to Cuba to broaden U.S. outreach to the Cuban people included, among other things, increasing the number of U.S. airports available for the operation of direct charter flights. Ferry services were not included in the group of policy changes. After consultation with the Department of State, OFAC has determined that the issuance of specific licenses ... is beyond the scope of current policy."
Moecklin tells the Standard he's still working with Congress to try to make a ferry happen, but that he hasn't found much support among the South Florida delegation.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink