The US Treasury Department has approved licenses for passenger ferry services between the United States and Cuba. Approval from Cuba has yet to be obtained.
Baja Ferries of Miami said on Tuesday it had received a license from the Treasury Department to operate a ferry service between the US and Cuba. Fort Lauderdale's Havana Ferry Partners also said that their request for a license had been approved.
Two other operators also received licenses on Tuesday, according to local newspaper reports. A Treasury spokeswoman confirmed approval of the licenses.
The Cuban government made no immediate comment, and licenses need to be granted by the Caribbean island state as well.
Before Cuba's 1959 revolution there were daily flights and ferries over the 170 kilometers (106 miles) between Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba. But services ended in the early 1960s when the US government imposed an embargo on Fidel Castro's Cuba.
Plans for new ferry services have been underway since the US government moved last December to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, and ease travel and trade. But Congress still has to vote to lift the embargo.
Americans are still not allowed to visit Cuba for general tourism. The ferries will only be able to carry authorized US travelers to the island and people in 12 specific categories, such as those going for family visits and for religious and educational activities.
The ferry operators are planning to charge less than the $400-500 (357-447 euros) currently charged for charter flights from Miami to Cuba, and to allow up to 200 pounds (90 kilos) of luggage. Many people on family visits take baggage made up of large consumer items currently unavailable in Cuba.
Havana Ferry Partners said it planned a ferry service with a 200-person vessel from Key West to Havana and an overnight service for up to 500 passengers from Fort Lauderdale and Miami to Cuba.
Catamaran ferry operator CubaKat expects to receive its license in the coming weeks and plans a service from the Florida Keys with a 200-passenger vessel that can carry baggage below deck.
jm/bk (Reuters, AP)