The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) granted specific licenses to operate passenger/cargo ferries from the United States to Cuba earlier this week. Havana Ferry Partners LLC announced on its Facebook page on May 5, 2015 that it had received approval from both OFAC and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) to conduct ferry operations from four South Florida ports to Havana, Cuba. Reportedly, several other companies received similar approvals.

Under the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are authorized to provide carrier services via aircraft to persons authorized to travel to Cuba pursuant to a general license. This means that any person can provide these services, provided that they meet the requirements outlined in the regulations, with no approval necessary. Transportation of authorized travelers by vessels, however, requires a U.S. person to apply for and receive a specific license from OFAC. Accordingly, the vessel operators had to obtain licenses from OFAC.

In addition, under the Export Administration Regulations, a license from BIS is needed for a vessel to travel to Cuba, even though the visits will be temporary.

The ferries will only be able to carry passengers that are authorized by one of the twelve general licenses for travel to Cuba (e.g., professional research/meetings, religious and educational purposes, etc.) or by a specific license. Travel to Cuba for tourism purposes is still not authorized.

The ferry operators will also need to obtain approval from Cuba for the operations to commence.