The United States authorized commercial ferry services to Cuba for the first time in more than a half-century on Tuesday, another major step in improving relations between the two countries.
In what was hailed by ferry operators as “a historical event,” the US Treasury lifted a decades-old ban and at least one Florida company confirmed it had been licensed to launch boat services to the island.
That adds to the charter air services that had been permitted up until now, focused on enabling Cuban-Americans to visit their families.
The ferries will also be allowed to carry cargo to the communist island, which sits just 150 kilometers (90 miles) off the southern tip of Florida.
Joseph Hinson, president of Miami-based United Americas Shipping Services, confirmed his company had received permission from the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to provide ferry travel.
“Today’s action was a great step forward,” he told AFP, while adding that other permissions were still needed from authorities in both countries before launching the first trip.
Another company, Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said on its Facebook page that it too had received a Treasury license for ferry services from four Florida ports.
“This is a historical event. Thanks to President Barack Obama, to whom we are very grateful, for his leadership,” the firm wrote.
Whether by plane or ferry, American travelers to Cuba still have to come under one of 12 categories permitted in the landmark easing of US sanctions announced by the White House in December — including family visits, official government business, humanitarian projects and sports gatherings.
But even under embargo restrictions, the number of Americans traveling to Cuba has surged in recent years, with many going via third countries.