Ferry operators discuss connecting Cuba with FL ports

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Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 9:26 PM

Such service hasn't yet begun because the Cuban government hasn't approved a U. S. ferry to utilize one of its ports, but ferries are expected to be a favorite way to travel and ship cargo from FL to the Caribbean island.

Ferry operators discuss connecting Cuba with FL ports

Ferry operators interested in carrying cargo and passengers to Cuba have opened discussions with executive at several Florida ports.

Such service hasn't yet begun because the Cuban government hasn't approved a U. S. ferry to utilize one of its ports, but ferries are expected to be a favorite way to travel and ship cargo from FL to the Caribbean island.

Jorge Fernandez, CEO of Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale, tells The Tampa Tribune (http://bit. ly/1WlnuNO ) that the company recently met with Cuban government executive and is optimistic it'll get permission to set sail as early as June.

Fernandez is interested in sailing from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West, but he also has been exploring ports in the Tampa Bay area. Harbour Manatee would be preferred over ports in Tampa and St. Petersburg, he said, while in Cuba a landing in Havana would be preferred over the harbour in Santiago.

A ferry from Harbour Manatee would get roughly eight hours to reach Havana. That's ninety minutes closer than St. Petersburg and three hours closer than Tampa.

Ferry service would be cheaper than baggage fees for a flight for passengers bringing bulk goods to family in Cuba, said Phil Richards, president of Havana Ferry Partners. Tickets would cost roughly $290, and the first forty to sixty pounds of baggage would be free, he said.

Havana Ferry Partners owns one ferry, a 40-meter, high-speed, wind-piercing Catamaran that can transport as many as four hundred passengers but number bulk cargo. It likely would leave from Key West, Richards said.

The company is exploring options for vessels that can carry cargo from other ports.

"A ferry operation makes profits on the cargo and not on the passengers," said Harbour Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras. "It would be a genuine convenience not just for our area but every county S to Collier."

The Tampa Bay area is residence to the third-largest Cuban-American pop in the U. S. but it currently has number regularly scheduled cargo lines serving Cuba. Neither does the Harbour of Miami, though Harbour Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and the Harbour of Jacksonville do have regular cargo service to Cuba.

Harbour Tampa Bay is talking with ferries looking to connect the area to Cuba, said spokesman Andy Fobes.

"We have the terminals and the appropriate on-site regulatory agencies and facilities already in space to handle passengers," Fobes said, "and one day, once the embargo is lifted, cargo."

Harbour St. Petersburg, owned by the city and marketed as a luxury yacht middle below the title "Port St. Pete," would likely host ferries carrying mainly passengers with Ltd cargo space, said executive director Walt Miller.

The infrastructure at Cuba'south ports will be certified when U. S. cruise ships start sailing there from Miami next month.

"The harbour facilities, cargo handling, security, customs, immigration — all of it'll be below coercion due to the cruises," said John Kavulich, president of the U. S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "I don't look Cuba emotional forward on ferries until they're comfortable with the cruise ship operations."

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