Switzerland's MSC to become first major cruise line in Cuba
By Jonathan Saul
LONDON Dec 14 (Reuters) - MSC Cruises will this week become the first major liner to start operations in Cuba, part of its efforts to grow a global presence, the Swiss group's chief executive said.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a year ago they would work toward a normalisation of relations after half a century of Cold War hostility, although a U.S. trade embargo of Cuba remains in place.
Privately-owned MSC Cruises, the world's fourth biggest line, said while its cruises were not currently being offered to U.S. customers, bookings by Europeans and Canadians had been "above our estimations".
"Out of the main four global cruise lines in the world, we are the first one (into Cuba) and the only one not headquartered in the U.S," Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises, said in an interview.
Miami-based rival Carnival Corp, the world's largest cruise operator, has said it planned to take travelers to the communist island nation next May on specialised cultural and humanitarian visits that fall within U.S. embargo guidelines.
The MSC Opera vessel, which can carry 2,600 passengers, is due to arrive in Havana on Dec. 18.
"Havana has never seen a ship this size," Onorato said. "The present (port) infrastructure is adequate." Continuación...