The U.S. Coast Guard medevaced a 79-year-old passenger who was suffering chest pains from a Norwegian Cruise Line ship near Cuba on July 4, 2018, and flew him to Jackson Memorial Hospital here in Miami.

The Norwegian Sky had just sailed from Havana, Cuba, and was beginning its voyage back to Miami when the cruise ship notified the Coast Guard in Key West that the senior citizen required emergency medical care. The Coast Guard dispatched an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Miami to the cruise ship around 4:45 PM, when the NCL ship was approximately 65 miles southwest of Key West.

Video credit: Defense Visual Information Distribution System (DVIDS) – U.S. Coast Guard District 7

 

Cuba remains a popular tourist attraction, especially for Canadians who visit the island. But there are dangers there which few tourists may realize.

Newspapers in Canada are reporting that a 47 year old Canadian tourist from Quebec, who was on vacation in Cuba with his wife and two young daughters, is facing criminal charges after a boating excursion accident in Cuba killed another Canadian tourist.

CTV News reports that the Canadian tourist, Toufik Benhamiche, was "driving a small boat as part of a tourist excursion in July 2017 when the boat veered out of control and fatally struck a woman fromTravel to Cuba Ontario."

A Cuban court found the tourist guilty of criminal negligence and sentenced him to four years in prison. 

Mr. Benhamiche and his family were enjoying a week-long family vacation in Cayo Coco, Cuba. He had flown to Cuba as part of a tour organized and sold by a Canadian tour company, Sunwing, whose Cuban partner organized the water tour through another Cuban sub-contractor. The article explains that the fatal accident took place during an adventure tour reportedly offered by Sunwing’s local Cuban partner, Gaviota Tours, which reportedly subcontracted the boat portion to the Cuban company, Marlin SA.

Mr. Benhamiche’s lawyer Julius Grey said that he intends to bring a legal action against Sunwing for the failure of company and its local tour operators to provide basic instructions regarding the watercraft and permitting the small vessel to be overloaded. According to the Canadian newspaper, Mr. Grey alleges that his client was provided with inadequate direction on how to pilot the boat. He stated: "it’s obvious they’re at fault . . . our client had been taught nothing, knew nothing, did not have a license and was told he could just do it for a few dollars."

Although this incident obviously does not involve a cruise, it raises a common issue when tourists are injured in foreign countries by the negligence of local tour partners. This case is unusual because the tourist was arrested for what appears to be a case of simple negligence.  

The tourist’s lawyer was critical of both Cuba and Canada. He criticied the Canadian government for not assisting the Canadian who was arrested and imprisoned in Cuba following the excursion accident. The lawyer stated that Cuba was trying to protect a Cuban company which it is responsible for from a "potentially high liability" for the deadly accident. 

Gaviota Group is a popular Cuba company which provides a wide range of tours in Cuba, including sail boats and jet skis. Marlin SA is also a popular Cuban company which offers sailing, fishing, and jet skis tours to tourists visiting Cuba. 

One account of the incident, from the Canadian newspaper La Presse, indicates that the "Cuban state . . .  is the true owner of the Marlin company." The newspaper also states that three employees of Marlin were initially charged with criminal wrongdoing but the Cuban government eventually withdrew these charges, leaving the Canadian tourist as the soul culprit.

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Today, the Trump administration announced new regulations restricting travel to Cuba. 

According to the Miami Herald, U.S. citizens will be banned from engaging in business with entities tied to the Cuban military, intelligence and security services, including hotels, stores, marinas, tourist agencies, and industries tied to the Cuban government. 

The regulations, however, do not restrict cruise lines operating to Cuba as they are currently doing.

Cruise CubaThe Herald writes that President Trump’s new travel restrictions were drafted with input from Miami anti-Castro Republicans, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart and Senator Marco Rubio, who previously opposed cruise ships going to Cuba.

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Photo credit: ALEXANDRE MENEGHINI / REUTERS via NY Daily News.

The U.S. State Department issued a new safety warning last Friday regarding travel to Cuba.

The U.S. government warned Americans not to travel to Cuba because of recent sonic attacks on U.S. citizens who were working for the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The attacks caused the U.S. employees to experience hearing loss, ear-ringing, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, headaches and cognitive problems, among other symptoms.  

But the Miami-based cruise lines are ignoring the warning.

Carnival Cruise CEO Arnold DonaldCarnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean are continuing their cruises to Cuba. 

Carnival issued a statement that “while members and relatives of the U.S. diplomatic corps have suffered illnesses apparently triggered by occurrences at the diplomatic offices or possibly their homes, none of the more than 475,000 other Americans visiting Cuba this year have reported similar health issues related to their visits. We are, of course, closely monitoring and are in touch with U.S., as well as Cuban authorities, and will act accordingly if anything warrants a change in our plans . . .  Please be advised that your visa for travel to Cuba is valid, and there are no issues with your return to the U.S. The State Department advisory does not prohibit Americans from traveling to Cuba.”

Newsweek and the New York Times report that the U.S. has already expelled two Cuban diplomats over the attacks, and is considering further retaliatory steps. The attacks have reportedly occurred at hotels as well as U.S. citizen’s homes.  "Because some of the attacks occurred in hotels where U.S. State Department employees were temporarily staying, officials said they worried that tourists and others U.S. visitors could be affected."

Most recently, the U.S. expelled 15 of Cuba’s diplomats today to protest Cuba’s attacks on American embassy employees in Havana. Last week, the U.S. announced it was withdrawing 60 percent of the U.S. diplomats from Cuba because they might be harmed if they stay.

The U.S. State Department said: "Because our personnel’s safety is at risk and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba."

With most of the eastern Caribbean islands largely destroyed by hurricanes Irma and Maria, the cruise lines in Miami are hesitant to further disrupt their businesses by suspending cruises to Cuba. Carnival CEO Arnold Donald (photo, above right with Fathom president Tara Russell) has always banked on cruising to Cuba. 

Many travel companies suggest that the U.S. warning is overstated. The cruise lines point to the fact that only U.S. diplomats and embassy employees have been victims, so far. 

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Photo credit: CNBC

CubaCuba has granted permission to Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line to sail passengers to the island.

Cuba also approved all three of Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) brands, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which will start cruising there in March.

Oceania will first send the Marina to Cuba from Miami on March 7th. The cruise ship will call on Havana and other ports in Cuba. 

Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner will sail to Cuba in April, and NCL’s Norwegian Sky will start cruising to Cuba in May.

As matters now stand, the only U.S. based cruise line, Carnival’s Fathom, has been sailing the Adonia on the so-called "voluntourism" cruises for the past year, although it announced that it will stop sailing as of June of 2017.

The cruises are required to be part of educational and "people-to-people" exchanges between Americans and Cubans pursuant to U.S. government procedures.

I previously announced, as an April Fools joke, that Royal Caribbean planned to rename the Empress of the Seas the Cuban Empress and was going to be home-ported in Havana.    

On a serious note, Fidel Castro’s death has not dampened the feelings of many Cubans who fled Cuba in the early 1960’s after Castro came into power. Many families lost everything when they fled Cuba many years ago. They see no point in doing business with a country still run by Castro’s brother where the money from cruise ship passengers goes directly to the Communist government run by the military.

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AdoniaThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there was an illness outbreak on Fathom’s Adonia this past week (October 16 – October 23, 2016).

The CDC states that 23 of 668 (3.44%) passengers reported being ill with diarrhea and vomiting during this voyage which returned to Miami from Cuba yesterday. Only 2 out of the 388 crew members were reportedly sick.   

A CDC environmental health officer boarded the ship when it returned to Miami.

The CDC has not determined the cause of what appears to be a gastrointestinal outbreak.  

Fathom increased its cleaning and disinfection procedures for the cruise ship.

Fathom’s historical first cruise on the Adonia cruise ship to Cuba was plagued by a norovirus outbreak. The captain of the ship announced a gastrointestinal outbreak with the passengers experiencing symptoms consistent with norovirus on the ship last May. Carnival later contradicted the captain and said that there was no confirmation that the passengers were sickened by norovirus.   

The Adonia also suffered a complete blackout last May and was ordered to return to the port of Miami when it regained power.  It had earlier failed U.S. Coast Guard inspections in April when it arrived in Miami from P&O Cruises when it was being readied for cruises to Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

The Adonia is currently sailing to Amber Cover in the Dominican Republic.

Photo credit: By Alessandro Ambrosetti from Rome, Italy – Fathom Adonia, CC BY 2.0.

Late yesterday afternoon, Fathom’s Adonia experienced a power loss, causing its elevators, bathrooms and air conditioners to stop working for around 30 minutes. "Following orders from the U.S. Coast Guard," the Adonia returned to Miami yesterday. 

Fathom downplayed the incident saying that it was only a "short-term electrical difficulty.”

Prior to being the flagship for Carnival’s so-called "voluntourism" brand, Fathom, the Adonia was in the Micky arison Twitterfleet of the Carnival brand P&O Cruises. After drydock, it was brought to Miami but quickly failed an initial Coast Guard inspection leading to Fathom canceling its first cruise. The Coast Guard said the most serious remaining problem were with "numerous sliding fire screen doors that are inoperable."

A lawsuit was filed against Fathom and Carnival after they enforced Cuban discriminatory policies prohibiting natural born Cubans from entering Cuban, in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Once cleared to sail, the Adonia experienced a relatively small norovirus outbreak during the ship’s first cruise to Cuba.

Social media, including Twitter, has not given the Adonia’s latest trouble much attention. One of the few tweets about the Adonia yesterday was posted by Carnival chairman Micky Arison before the power failure, saying: "I’m preparing #Adonia to sail to Havana with Capt Sarah Breton."  It’s a confusing tweet because Fathom subsequently released a statement saying that the Adonia was cruising to the Dominican Republic. 

There is some discrepancy in reports about the incident whether the cruise ship was heading to Cuba or the Dominican Republic. News 7 quoted a Fathom statements saying that the power failure occurred "on the initial leg of its journey from Miami to the Dominican Republic."  But another local news station, Local 10, quoted a second statement by Fathom: "Fathom will now arrive into Havana for the two-day call at 7:30 a.m. May 31, and will depart at 18:00 (6:00 p.m.) on June 1. Unfortunately it has been necessary to cancel the call to Cienfuegos and the ship will proceed to Santiago de Cuba as scheduled."

The news account also said that the Adonia apparently left PortMiami at 3 A.M. this morning. 

Photo credit:  Twitter/Micky Arison via News 7

 

The Sun Sentinel is reporting that the Fathom Travel’s historical first cruise on the Adonia cruise ship to Cuba may have experienced a norovirus outbreak aboard the ship sickening passengers, according to reports from the captain. 

At around 2:45 P.M. this afternoon, there were at least 14 people on the ship complaining of diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps mentioned by the captain according to the Sun Sentinel. With only around 600 people aboard the cruise ship, that’s over 2% of the cruise passengers which is near the threshold where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) become involved.

The photos and video from the cruise ship show crew members already rubbing and scrubbing the surfaces of the ship. Norovirus is primarily a foodborne virus although the virus can last for weeks on contaminated surfaces. It can also be spread by person to person contact. Hand shaking on the ship is apparently discouraged. Self-serve buffets have also reportedly been replaced with service by crew members wearing gloves. 

The cruise ship, of couse, quickly blamed the passengers with the ship doctor writing a letter saying "we suspect that the virus may have been inadvertently introduced on board by embarking travelers, even though the ship had not even performed tests to make such a determination.  One of those sick, a former public health social worker, said "I think it was something I ate." Read Fears of Norovirus mar last day of cruise to Cuba.

You can see a video related to the gastrointestinal virus on the Adonia here

Norovirus on the first cruise to Cuba?  There must be a Jimmy Fallon joke here somewhere. 

May 8 2016 Update:  Spin Masters? Carnival PR team tells the Sun Sentinel that there is no verification that the Adonia guests were sick due to norovirus.

 

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Fathom Travel Adonia Ship Doctor Norovirus

 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=YBeEE9vh8kA%3Frel%3D0

This morning I received a message from a passenger on the Coral Princess that the Princess Cruises cruise ship picked up 7 Cuban migrants in a small make-shift boat.  

The photo sent to me showed what appeared to be at least one man in distress lying on his back near the bow of the boat. 

Here’s the message which I received:

"Coral princess just rescued 7 cubans on a damaged small boat off the coast of cuba…we are on our way back to FL with 7 cubans on board."

Usually cruise ships which take Cuban migrants aboard deliver them to a Coast Guard vessel and the migrants are returned to Cuba.

Cuban Migrants

AdoniaYesterday. a lawsuit was filed against Carnival Corporation and Fathom Travel for discriminating against Cuban-Americans who were excluded as passengers on the the May 1st cruise to Cuba.  The lawsuit alleges that these cruise lines violated the civil rights of two Cuban-Americans by denying them reservations on the Adonia because they were born in Cuba.

The lawsuit seeks class action certification. It was filed by the law firms of Koyzan, Tropin and Throckmorton and Robert Rodriguez P.A. 

You can read the lawsuit here.

Yesterday, the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale published an article by its editorial board stating that until Cuba changes its policy of prohibiting native-born Cuban Americans from arriving by sea, "all American cruise lines, ferry operators and shipping companies should collectively call a time-out on plans to sail to Cuba."  The newspaper states:

"It is not OK for an American business to abide by policies that discriminate against Americans. It is not OK for an American business to check the birthplace on citizens’ passports before letting them aboard. It is not OK for an American business to create two classifications of Americans, no matter the rhetoric of presidential candidates who would discriminate against Muslim-Americans ."

Yesterday, the Cuban American Bar Association sent a letter to Carnival chairman Micky Arison protesting Carnival’s enforcement of Cuba’s discriminatory policies against Cuban-Americans.

Fathom Travel was last in the news earlier this week when the U.S.Coast Guard shut down the Adonia, scheduled to cruise to the Dominican Republic, for safety violations. Travel Weekly reported that the ship had numerous fire doors which were inoperable. Inoperable fire doors on an inaugural cruise should be a major embarassement for a cruise line with a history of fires at sea.

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April 13, 2016 Update:  

An embarassing day for Carnival’s so-called "social impact" cruise line. 

Newsweek asks WHY ARE CARNIVAL CRUISES DOING CASTRO’S DIRTY WORK?

Miami-Dade mayor says Carnival Cuba cruise policy violates county human-rights law.

The Miami Herald joins the Sun Sentinel and asks Carnival to stop discriminating.

John Kerry: "American citizens, Cuban Americans have a right to travel, and we should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us . . .  Carnival needs to not discriminate."

The Miami New Times article A Cuban Millennial’s Take: Obama, Not Carnival Cruise Line, Is the Problem in Cuba has a slightly different view, saying that Carnival is is "merely a pawn in a much larger political game."

April 15 2015 Update: Miami Hearld Carnival cruise to Cuba leads to rare, unintended bipartisan agreement against company’s plans.

April 16 2015 Update:  The Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board (CRB) and the Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board (HAAB) are urging Carnival Cruise Lines to reverse its decision to not allow Cuban-born County residents as passengers on Fathom Travel’s cruise to Cuba.

April 18 2016: Former Miami U.S. attorney had asked Justice Department to investigate Carnival cruise to Cuba ("Shamelessly, Carnival tries to absolve itself from its illegal conduct by pointing its finger at the Cuban Government and blaming it for its discriminatory laws. But, it is Carnival that is playing the role of the Cuban Government police, doing its dirty work by enforcing the Cuban Government’s discriminatory laws. Carnival is willing to play that role for business reasons.")

April 19 2016 UpdateMiami-Dade’s human-rights law requires Carnival to sell tickets to Cuban-born passengers, county lawyers say.

Carnival finnaly comes to its sense. Carnival cruise lines says it will allow Cuban-born passengers to book travel to Cuba, but will delay trips if the island’s government does not change its policy allowing nationals to return by sea.

Photo credit: MrDerails English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.