Rebecca Gibson from Cruise&Ferry spoke to Oscar Ruano Baqueiro, director general of Baja Ferries, to find out more about the line’s planned passenger ferry services between the US and Cuba as it waits to secure Cuban government approval
Why did Baja Ferries decide to apply to operate a ferry service between the US and Cuba?
We decided to explore the feasibility of this line in 2005 after one of Baja Ferries’ subsidiaries obtained a licence to operate cargo vessels between the US and Cuba. Although our initial application was rejected in 2010, we decided to try again once diplomatic relations between the two countries had been restored. In the past, the trade and passenger routes between the Florida peninsula and Cuba were very busy and we expect that to reactivate, although it may be a gradual process.
Baja Ferries has held discussions with both the Cuban and US authorities to showcase all the benefits of a US-Cuba ferry service and in May 2009, we even docked our Chihuahua Star ferry in Cuba to show our commitment to the market. We also attend the International Fair of Havana every year, while our team travels extensively in Cuba.
Why do you think the service will be popular with travellers?
There’s a natural ferry route between Florida and Havana, so we believe it will be very popular, particularly with travellers who are staying in Florida and want to visit Cuba as an extension of their holiday or vice versa. Similar ferry services are popular between mainland Europe and the Mediterranean islands, and these services transport high volumes of cargo and passengers annually. This market is much smaller than Cuba and the US, which offer a market of 11 million and 300 million potential passengers respectively, so it’s likely our services would be very popular, particularly because travel between the two countries has been prohibited for the past 50 years.
When do you hope to receive approval from the Cuban government?
Although we hoped to receive approval from the Cuban government immediately, the reality is different. As the re-opening of the embassies is a quite recent milestone, there are a lot of topics in the Cuban government’s agenda before the ferry, we understand it and we will be patient until all parties are ready and feel comfortable with the proposed operation of the service.
Where do you plan to homeport your ferries?
Initially our ferries will sail three weekly roundtrips from Miami, US to Havana, Cuba and we’ve been working with the ports to set up the necessary customs, security and immigration facilities. Our ferries will depart Miami on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and return on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. This will enable people travelling on Friday to spend the weekend in Cuba. We’re still evaluating how to expand the service and considering other potential homeports.
What onboard services can passengers expect?
All of the onboard services will be oriented towards helping passengers to enjoy their journey. Our ferries will offer restaurants, bars, a casino, a pool and plenty of other entertainment options. We aim to make sailing between the US and Cuba a fun and gratifying experience.