Cruise ship in Port of Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Brian Major).
A federal judge in Miami has ruled that cruise lines engaged in “statutorily prohibited tourism” by bringing passengers to Cuba.
In a March 21, 2022, ruling, U.S. Judge Beth Bloom said that Carnival Corp., Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Royal Caribbean Group and MSC Cruises must compensate the descendants of a U.S. businessman for using a Havana terminal that was confiscated after the Cuban revolution for those trips made outside the travel categories allowed by law, according to the Associated Press.
Cruise companies were issued licenses by the U.S. Treasury Department to carry American passengers to Cuba. However, the judge said that that did not mean people were allowed to travel to Cuba for tourism.
“The fact that OFAC (the Office of Foreign Assets Control) promulgated licenses for traveling to Cuba, and executive branch officials, including the president, encouraged defendants to do so, does not automatically immunize defendants from liability if they engaged in statutorily prohibited tourism,” Bloom wrote in her ruling.
According to court records, the cruise lines earned more than $1.1 billion in revenue bringing passengers to Cuba and paid $138 million to Cuban government entities.
The judge sided with Havana Docks, which held a concession to operate the port of Havana before the property was nationalized by Fidel Castro in 1960. In 1996, the U.S. passed the Helms-Burton Act (also known as the Libertad Act), which allows owners to sue companies that engaged in commercial activities or benefited somehow from the confiscated properties.
Havana Docks is owned by Mickael Behn, the grandson of William C. Behn, an American who owned three docks that were confiscated in 1960. The company is seeking damages of approximately $9.2 million.
“The Court provided a careful and meticulous analysis of the evidence and the law,” said Havana Docks’ lawyers Bob Martinez and Stephanie Casey, partners at Colson Hicks Eidson law firm in Coral Gables. “Havana Docks is pleased with the ruling and looks forward to a trial on damages.”