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South Florida company gets permission to start ferry service to Cuba

Service would sail from South Florida port 3 times per week

The U.S. government has granted licenses to five companies to begin offering ferry service to Cuba.

MIAMI – Miami-based Baja Ferries USA is one of three local companies that have been given permission to start a ferry service to Cuba.

"There were a few high-fives in the office," Joe Hinson, vice president of Baja Ferries USA, said about the reaction from staff once the announcement came down from Washington earlier this week.

The move to start service is a natural because the company has been in the ferry business since 2003, operating ferries on the west coast of Mexico and between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

"That gives us the opportunity to already know what it takes to operate and ship in U.S. waters," Hinson said.

Under preliminary plans, the service would sail from a South Florida port three times a week.

"We envision to be able to offer people the opportunity to travel comfortably, for family to be able to travel with their small children," Hinson said.

Each ship has a capacity to carry 2,000 passengers.

Hinson estimates the round trip would cost about $250, a price that does include port charges.

Hinson touted the ability of passengers to take up to 200 pounds of luggage for free, which he said is a plus for Cuban-Americans in South Florida who typically travel with gifts for their families.

"To do that on an airline you obviously pay quite a bit extensive penalty to carry that much baggage," Hinson said.

Baja Ferries wants to start service soon, but Hinson said it'll be a couple months before ferry service starts. He guessed the first trip would be in September or August. Before the first voyage, the company has to make sure its vessels comply with the U.S. Coast Guard and now Cuban government regulations.

"There is no question that at the street level, the people want this to happen," he said. "They want to see the Americans come in."

A spokeswoman for Port Everglades said the infrastructure is already in place there. She said the port has ferries traveling to the Bahamas. PortMiami also has ferry service.

As it works to open up the ferry service, Hinson said, the company plans to hire more than 250 people in South Florida.

Havana Ferry, of Fort Lauderdale, and Airline Brokers Co., of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, were also given approval by the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments.

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