Major US cruise operators have called an immediate halt to visits to Cuba following the Trump administration’s ban on travel to the Caribbean island.
The US government restrictions are aimed at pressuring Cuba’s Communist government to reform and stop supporting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Tuesday the move was a response to Cuban efforts “to play a destabilising role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up US adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes”.
US tourism to Cuba is not permitted, but certain forms of organised group travel, known as “people-to-people” travel, had been allowed until Tuesday’s announcement.
Commercial travel can continue, as long as the trips “broadly support family travel and other lawful forms of travel”, a US State Department spokesperson added, but other vessels such as private yachts or planes are banned.
The ban is a significant rollback of the thawing of US-Cuba relations that began under former president Barack Obama.
“This administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime,” Mr Mnuchin said.
“These actions will help to keep US dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”
But the swift response from cruise companies has angered passengers and prompted worries about trip cancellations and company earnings.
“Due to changes in US policy, the company will no longer be permitted to sail to Cuba effective immediately,” Carnival Corp said.
(1/3) Cuba Travel Policy Update: Effective immediately, the U.S. government has implemented new regulations that prohibit travel from the U.S. to Cuba by cruise ship. This change requires us to immediately replace all Cuban ports.
— Royal Caribbean (@RoyalCaribbean) June 5, 2019
A spokesman for Norwegian Cruise Line said on Thursday the company had ceased all calls to Cuba and was modifying previously scheduled sailings.
Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean said they would stop at different non-Cuban ports and would offer compensation to travellers.
Carnival said guests currently aboard its Carnival Sensation cruise, which set sail on June 3, would now stop at the Mexican island of Cozumel on Thursday, instead of Havana.
“We are working as quickly as possible to secure alternative itineraries for the remainder of our Cuba voyages and expect to have information for sailings further out in the next two-three days,” Carnival said.
Royal Caribbean said all of this year’s cruises on the Majesty of the Seas and Empress of the Seas would have alternative ports in the Caribbean.
Guests could cancel bookings for full refund, or can keep their sailing date with a new itinerary and receive a half of their money back Royal Caribbean said.
Travellers took to Twitter to vent their anger and frustration over the forced changes in their vacation plans.
Susan Berland, from Huntersville, North Carolina, said she was enraged that a trip designed around visiting Cuba had been upended by the Trump administration.
“To say I’m angry is an understatement. This whole cruise was chosen around going to Cuba and now we can’t,” she tweeted.
Analyst Jared Shojaian said cruise lines might need to issue refunds or future cruise credits to compensate guests, “which makes forecasting the earnings impact to 2019 even harder, and potentially more of a headwind”.