Norwegian Trip Line Chief Executive Officer Sets Sights On Cruising To Cuba By End Of Year

A Walt Disney Co. cruise ship has rescued three fugitives off the coast of Cuba who were wanted in New Orleans. U.S. Marshal Amos Rojas Jr. said in a news release that last Thursday, the Disney Fantasy cruise ship found the fugitives clinging to a capsized boat. He says all three were wanted for violating their supervised release on federal credit card fraud charges in New Orleans. Twenty-six-year-old Luis Rivera-Garcia, 23-year-old Juliet Estrada-Perez and 23-year-old Enrique Gonzalez-Torres were turned over to authorities in Florida after the Coast Guard discovered they were wanted fugitives via their fingerprints. The fugitives were Cuban nationals who were living in the United States; report the Baton Rouge, Louisiana newspaper The Advocate. Rojas says authorities believe the three may have been fleeing to Cuba to avoid prosecution.

The newspaper reports the three were among six people arrested in August for allegedly using skimming devices to steal credit card numbers from pumps at a gas station in Harahan, Louisiana. Detectives said the six, who were from South Florida, encoded the stolen numbers onto counterfeit gift and prepaid debit cards. Norwegian Cruise Line wants to offer cruises to Cuba by the end of the year, its CEO announced. The chief of the Miami-based company, Frank Del Rio, said he is seeking approvals to sail there. Norwegian’s move comes on the heels of rival Carnival Corp.’s announcement last week that it had reached an agreement with the island’s government, which dropped a policy banning Cuban-born people from arriving by sea. The agreement, which applies to merchant and cruise ships, led Carnival to proceed with plans to send the first cruise ship from the U.S.

Last year, Del Rio, who is Cuban-American, said in an interview with The Street that Cuba was a desirable destination for the cruise industry. Florida and Cuba are only 222 miles apart, said Del Rio. That’s what makes it so exciting. God put that body of land in the right place for the cruise industry. The CEO also spoke of the anticipation many people feel about going to Cuba, an enigma to many Americans because of the decades-old U.S. embargo of the island. Ever since President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro announced at the end of 2014 their intention to restore diplomatic relations, Obama has eased trade and travel restrictions. Only Congress can lift the embargo an unlikely move at the moment with so many in the Republican Party, which controls both the House and Senate, opposed to removing it as long as the Castro regime opposes making democratic changes.

It’s the pent-up demand, Del Rio said. Cuba is more than a sandbar in the Caribbean. It has history. It has culture. We think of the music. We think of the arts. It has multiple ports, too. Del Rio acknowledged the challenge facing Cuba to improve its infrastructure to accommodate a rise in American tourists traveling there. But he said the cruise industry is not faced with the logistical problems others in the tourism business must grapple with when dealing with the island. The great thing about the cruise industry is that we bring our own infrastructure with us, Del Rio told The Street. When we visit Cuba, we don’t need anything Just a couple of buses, so we can bring people to the sites. Carnival will begin making regularly scheduled trips to Cuba from Miami every other week starting on May 1.