US cruise ship makes historic Cuba trip

Cruise travellers on the deck of the MSC Opera cruiser as it leaves the harbour in Havana, 4 Feb 2016Image copyright

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Thousands of tourists arrive in Cuba by ship every year, but vessels departing from the US were not allowed to travel to the island

An American cruise ship has set sail for Cuba from the US for the first time in more than 50 years.

The Adoni has sailed from the port of Miami carrying some 700 passengers. It is due to arrive in Havana on Monday.

Cuba and the US restored diplomatic relations last year. But several Cold War-era restrictions on travelling and trading are yet to be lifted.

The cruise trip only went ahead after Cuba scrapped a ban on its citizens entering or leaving the island by sea.

The US company operating the cruise, Carnival, had been given permission by both governments to run ships between Florida and Cuba.

A Cuban government rule stipulated, however, that Cubans could only enter or leave by plane.

The restriction meant it could not take bookings from Americans of Cuban origin.

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The ban on people of Cuban origin sparked protests

After protests by Cuban-Americans and threats of legal action, Carnival said it would have to postpone its cruises unless the entry policy was changed.

The Cuban authorities lifted the ban just over a week ago.

Before the Cuban Revolution brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959, cruise ships and ferries were a common way to cross the Florida Straits.

Since presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced in December 2014 that they had agreed to mend relations, tourism in Cuba has reached record numbers.

The cruise ships are expected to bring thousands more visitors to the communist-run island in the coming months, says the BBC’s Will Grant.

The Adonia will sail every other week from Miami to Cuba, said Carnival.

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