MIAMI – Nearly 800,000 reservations have been affected by the US government’s decision to ban cruise ships from calling on ports in Cuba, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said on Wednesday.
“Without warning, CLIA Cruise Line Members are forced to eliminate all Cuba destinations from itineraries effective immediately,” the trade group said.
CLIA said the ban was imposed without taking into account the financial effects of the policy.
The ban “affects nearly 800,000 passenger bookings that are currently scheduled or already underway,” CLIA said.
“Passenger bookings had been made under a general license previously issued by the United States Government that authorized ‘people to people’ travel to Cuba. These travel restrictions effectively make it illegal to cruise to Cuba from the United States,” the trade group said.
On Tuesday, the US government said it would restrict cultural visits by American citizens to Cuba, as well as impose restrictions on travel to the island.
“The United States will no longer permit visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vessels, including cruise ships and yachts, and private and corporate aircraft,” the State Department said in a statement.
Commercial airline flights, however, will continue to be allowed between the United States and Cuba.
The cultural and educational trips under the group people-to-people educational travel program had allowed thousands of Americans to visit the island after a thaw in relations started under former President Barack Obama in 2014.
The Fathom Adonia was the first cruise ship authorized to sail from the United States to Cuba in more than 50 years, leaving for Havana from Miami on May 1, 2016.
CLIA said “this situation is completely beyond our control” and apologized to those affected by the move.
“We are disappointed that cruises will no longer be operating to Cuba,” CLIA chairman Adam Goldstein said. “While out of our control, we are genuinely sorry for all cruise line guests who were looking forward to their previously booked itineraries to Cuba.”
The big cruise lines, which said on Tuesday that they were evaluating the situation, are notifying customers that they can no longer sail to Cuba and are seeking alternate destinations.
No cruise line has yet announced what the new ports of call will be.
Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise line, said its Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line ships no longer had authorization to sail to Cuba and Seabourn, another of the company’s brands, would not start sailing to the island in November as previously announced.
“We are working as quickly as possible to secure alternative itineraries for the remainder of our Cuba voyages and expect to have information for sailings further out in the next 2-3 days. In the meantime, please check back on our website for further updates,” Carnival Corporation said in a statement.
Carnival’s operations on the communist-ruled island had already led to the filing of two lawsuits in Miami by members of the families that owned the port facilities seized following the 1959 Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro.
In April, the Trump administration said it would invoke a measure for the first time that allows lawsuits against foreign companies operating on properties seized from Americans following the 1959 revolution in Cuba.
The LIBERTAD Act, or Helms-Burton Act, was enacted in 1996 and Title III of the law allows plaintiffs to sue both foreign and Cuban companies making money off properties confiscated after the 1959 Cuban Revolution in US courts.
Implementation of Title III was suspended every six months by the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
President Donald Trump did the same thing in his first two years in office, but in January he suspended Title III for only 45 days and then for only 30 days, a term that expired on April 17.
Virgin Voyages, which was preparing to offer Miami to Cuba cruises, said it was consulting CLIA and regulators to determine the impact of the new policy on its planned sailings to the island.
“While we are disappointed, the beauty of sea travel means that we have the flexibility to take our ships to many wonderful destinations. The Virgin Voyages crew is hard at work making necessary adjustments to any affected sailings that feature a stop in Cuba next year. Virgin Voyages will be announcing and opening sales on adjusted voyages featuring a new destination early next week,” the company, which is owned by British billionaire Richard Branson, said in a statement.
In November 2018, Virgin Voyages said its Scarlet Lady, which is being built at an Italian shipyard, would begin sailing to Havana in 2020.