Greek-owned United Caribbean Lines Florida has secured one of the first few licenses for the operation of coastal shipping services between the US and Cuba from the US Department of the Treasury, after about half a century without a service.
United Caribbean is one of just four companies to have secured Washington’s consent to provide ferry services to Havana in the context of the thaw in relations between the US and Cuba. The company’s main shareholder Alexandros Panagopoulos told Kathimerini that “Cuba’s coastal shipping market has amazing potential for growth and a great amassed demand for trips to the US.”
The son of Pericles Panagopoulos – founder of Blue Star Ferries and Super Fast Ferries (now under the control of Marfin Investment Group) – added that United Caribbean will start sailing to Cuba this fall, if not even earlier, expecting major traffic in terms of passengers as well as cargo.
The ship to be used will link the major ports of Florida, such as Miami, Tampa Bay and Port Everglades, with Havana. Panagopoulos noted that the firm also hopes to also include ports in Mexico in the future, such as Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula.
The firm intends to tap three markets: tourism traffic (albeit limited and highly regulated at this stage), cargo trucks and the Cuban diaspora in the US, which for decades has been deprived of such a link. Tourism from the US to Cuba may well be liberalized soon, according to sector experts.
The capacity of the initial vessel to be used on the route will be around 1,500 passengers, with some 400 cabins available, although it is not clear whether this will concern a leased or company-owned ship. Depending on the success of the service and the progress in US-Cuban relations, Panagopoulos says that a second ship may also be added.