Two more companies receive U.S. licenses for ferry service to Cuba

Two more companies have secured U.S. approval to offer the first ferry service from Florida to Cuba in five decades.

International Port Corp. of Miami and America Cruise Ferries of Puerto Rico are among at least six companies licensed by the Treasury and Commerce departments, the firms confirmed.

The approvals are the first granted since Washington imposed an embargo on business with the communist-led island a half century ago. They're part of a push by the Obama administration since Dec. 17 to engage with Cuba, as the island government undertakes more market-oriented reforms.

"International Port Corp. appreciates the opportunity to make history again with the first regularly scheduled passenger ferry from Miami to Havana" since the 1960s, a news release said.

Ferry executives say they plan to lure passengers from Florida with cheaper fares than direct U.S.-Cuba charter flights and allowances for lots more luggage carried free. Many Cuban-Americans haul food, appliances, machinery and other supplies to family in Cuba and to the private businesses there that have been encouraged under President Raul Castro.

But scores of questions about the ferries remain unanswered: Will Cuba allow them in, and if so, how many? Will passengers from Florida opt to pay $300-$400 each for a ferry ride that could take five to seven hours each way, rather than $400-$500 for a flight that takes about an hour? And will all the companies approved be able to find ferries on short notice to offer the servic....

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