Now that the U.S. has formally resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba, it’s only natural that cruise lines will want to capitalize on sailings to the Caribbean nation – especially the world’s largest cruise company, Carnival Corporation. Carnival was recently granted approval by both the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce to commence sailings to Cuba, and is poised to make history as the first American cruise company to visit the island since the 1960 trade embargo was initiated.
Carnival certainly hasn’t wasted any time in scheduling future itineraries, and plans to feature Cuba as a port of call on its newest brand, fathom. Our cruise lawyers first learned about the fathom initiative last month, which aims at providing passengers with meaningful, humanitarian, and social impact cruising experiences in lesser developed countries, beginning with the Dominican Republic. Passengers on fathom cruises can take part in a range of volunteer projects to help local communities, from educational efforts to environmental cleanups. But while Carnival may have good intentions with the fathom brand and has gained U.S. government approval for the sailings, Cuban authorities have yet to give the cruise line the green light. Will the Cuban government be as receptive to the idea of cruise tourism? Even if the answer is ‘yes’, how will this affect the safety of cruise passengers?
Despite the fact that fathom cruises to Cuba can have a monumental impact on the island nation and its residents, the idea of eliciting a positive social impact is taking center stage, and appears to be overshadowing the importance of ensuring that cruise passengers remain safe while engaging in humanitarian projects.
Cuba has long been in a state of political turmoil, and the fact that diplomatic relations with the U.S. have been renewed doesn’t mean that a drastic change is going to happen overnight. Carnival has yet to address what (if any) special protocols it will follow to ensure passenger safety during the fathom cruises and land-based volunteer initiatives, which leads us to wonder if the cruise line is even planning on providing enhanced security for travelers.
Though a number of foreign-based cruise lines call on Cuba, because no American-based cruise lines have visited the nation in over 50 years, it stands to reason that the nation’s maritime safety policies regarding cruise travel and tourism are not on par with the strict regulations the U.S. upholds. American cruise lines will have to take this into account when scheduling itineraries. It would be wise for Carnival to assess all possible hazards before allowing its ships to call on Cuba and risking injuries to passengers and crew members.
Given the price of fathom itineraries (which can run well over $1,500 for a 7-day cruise), we can only hope that Carnival will allocate a portion of the sales toward improved safety protocols for cruisers. Unfortunately, given the less than stellar safety record many cruise lines hold and the alarming number of both sea and on-shore accidents and crimes that have transpired throughout the years, passengers often have little choice but to look after themselves.