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Four cruise lines ordered to pay nearly US$450m for using Cuba port

In this file photo taken on March 7, 2020, a Carnival Panorama cruise ship is seen docked in Long Beach, California. — AFP pic

Posted on January 2, 2023

Four cruise lines have been sentenced by a US judge to pay a total of nearly US$450 million (RM1.9 billion) for having used a Havana port nationalised by the Cuban government in 1960.

The ruling Friday by a federal judge in Florida requires the Carnival, MSC SA, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian lines to pay US$109 million each, plus court costs, to Havana Docks, an American company that held the concession to use that facility.

Havana Docks was deprived of its right to use the port following the Communist revolution on the Caribbean island.

The court found that the defendants, all of which made port stops in Havana, had “derived significant amounts of revenue — in the hundreds of millions of dollars each — from their wrongful trafficking activities, and to plaintiff’s detriment,” Judge Beth Bloom wrote.

The United States has imposed an economic embargo on the island since 1962.

President Barack Obama eased its terms in 2016, allowing cruise lines to make stopovers in Cuba, but his successor, Republican Donald Trump, reversed that decision.

The current ruling is based not on the embargo, however, but on a provision in a 1996 law, the Helms-Burton Act, that had remained inactive until now.

At the time, the US Congress wanted to discourage investment in Cuba by allowing any American whose assets had been expropriated by the Castro government to sue those who profited from its use.

But successive American presidents had suspended application of the measure until Trump decided in 2019 to let it take effect.

A flurry of legal actions followed, and the case involving the cruise lines — all of which are registered in other countries but have important presences in Florida — has been the first to come to a head.

In March, Judge Bloom had found the four cruise lines guilty of “trafficking” and engaging in “prohibited tourism.”

On Friday, she announced their penalty.

“Based upon the statute’s primarily deterrent goal and the offenses at issue, an award of slightly over US$100 million per defendant is certainly reasonable,” she wrote.

The cruise lines had argued that the Obama administration had authorised their travel to Cuba and that they fell under a “lawful travel” exception, but Bloom rejected that.

Her decision is subject to appeal, but it could have serious repercussions for the already crisis-hit Cuban economy, giving second thoughts to potential investors. — AFP


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