WASHINGTON — The United States has authorised commercial ferry services to Cuba for the first time in more than a half-century, another major step in improving relations between the two countries.
In what was hailed by ferry operators as "a historical event", the US Treasury lifted a decades-old ban and at least four Florida companies said they had been licensed to launch boat services to the island.
That adds to the charter air services that had been permitted until now, focused on enabling Cuban-Americans to visit their families.
The ferries will also be allowed to carry cargo to the communist island of 11 million, which sits just 150km off the southern tip of Florida.
Four companies confirmed they had received licenses from the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control to provide ferry travel.
"Today's action was a great step forward," said Joseph Hinson, president of Miami-based United Americas Shipping Services.
Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said on its Facebook page that it too had received a Treasury license for ferry services from four Florida ports.
"This is a historical event. Thanks to President Barack Obama, to whom we are very grateful, for his leadership," the firm wrote.
Two others, United Caribbean Lines and Airline Brokers, a travel agency, said they also received licenses.
But Hinson suggested the first trip would still take some time, because other permissions were still needed from authorities in both countries. — AFP