Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Posted on Monday, 04.08.13

Miami-Cuba seaborne shipping stops after big start

By CHRISTINE ARMARIO

Associated Press

MIAMI — It was two weeks before Christmas, and Robinson Perez had

bundles of gifts ready for his family in Cuba: A giant plastic Barbie

doll and stuffed animals for his two daughters. For his pregnant sister,

a wooden crib and baby clothes.

Perez could not go to Cuba for the holidays, so he chose the next best

thing: Maritime shipping from Miami to Havana.

The freight service was launched in July by International Port Corp. to

significant fanfare. It was the first direct maritime shipment of

humanitarian goods between Miami and Havana since the U.S. economic

embargo began against Fidel Castro's communist government five decades ago.

Thousands of customers began sending goods like medicine, toiletries and

food at lower cost than by airplane. Others began sending big items that

had been difficult to ship by air: washing machines, refrigerators and

housing construction supplies.

Less than a year later, however, the service has ground to a halt, The

Associated Press has learned. The ship had mechanical problems, the

International Port Corp. was sued for allegedly not paying its bills and

the Cuban government's package delivery company provided slow service.

Customers like Perez were left frustrated as their packages took much

longer than expected to arrive at their Cuban relatives' homes.

Candy canes and cookies that families shipped in December for Christmas

and New Year's Day arrived closer to Valentine's Day.

"They said it would take much less time," Perez said. "But well, they

had to wait."

The roots of the operation developed in in 2009 when President Barack

Obama issued the first of several executive orders expanding travel and

the flow of humanitarian goods between the U.S. and Cuba. Restrictions

on how many times Cuban-Americans could travel to the island were

lifted. The amount of money they could send in remittances was raised.

Larry Nussbaum, president of the International Port Corp., said he saw

it as an opportunity to tap into a growing market.

"It was going to be a tremendous amount of volume, and the current

providers were not organized properly," Nussbaum said.

The time appeared right. People who have arrived recently in the U.S.

from Cuba tend to have strong family ties to the island, are more likely

to send remittances and visit. And while Miami-based companies that sent

packages to Cuba once were threatened or even bombed by anti-Castro

groups, that violence has largely ended.

Cuban-Americans had already been sending parcels to their relatives on

the island, but primarily through often illegal third-country routes and

"mules" – people who travel to the island with packages they then

deliver for a fee.

Nussbaum said he coordinated with the Coast Guard and Cuban authorities

to charter a ship both sides could approve. They chose the Ana Cecilia,

a medium-sized cargo ship painted red, white and blue – the colors of

the U.S. and Cuban flags – owned by Miami Epic Shipping.

International Port Corp. also set up a contract with CubaPACK, Cuba's

government-owned delivery service, to deliver packages in Havana within

a week to 10 days, and to the rest of the island within 15 to 20.

On the ship's inaugural voyage in July, the sailing was not smooth. When

the Ana Cecilia approached Havana's port, it wasn't initially allowed to

dock because some paperwork hadn't been approved, International Port

Corp. spokesman Leonardo Sanchez said. It docked the next morning.

At first, the deliveries arrived within the time CubaPACK had promised.

But then it started to take longer. The weekly departures International

Port had advertised from Miami to Havana were also scaled back to

monthly trips.

Sanchez and Nussbaum said the delays are an infrastructure problem: More

goods have been sent than Cuban authorities are able to quickly process.

The Cubans use paper rather than computers to track and deliver the items.

"We've been frustrated ourselves with the service," Nussbaum said.

The Associated Press followed the Christmas packages Perez sent from

Miami to their arrival and delivery in Havana.

The problems began early, not long after customers began arriving at a

white terminal building to drop off their packages. Four days before the

ship's scheduled departure on Dec. 12, Ramon Mesa, co-owner of Miami

Epic Shipping, emailed Nussbaum demanding $250,679 in back payment for

the chartering of the Ana Cecilia. He gave International Port three days

to pay. If not, he would remove the boat from the dock.

Epic wasn't the only creditor demanding payment. The owner of the dock

and warehouse facility, Marine Shaw Terminal, said the company owed him

$30,000 in rent and has filed a lawsuit as well.

"The owner needed to come up with funds or the vessel wouldn't go," said

Cliff Kornfield, an attorney for Mesa.

International Port officials gave a different explanation for the

delayed departure. They said the Coast Guard had discovered a leak and

the ship couldn't sail. Coast Guard documents show inspectors found

seawater entering the ship in late November.

Mesa confirmed there had been a leak, but said he repaired it within a day.

"I had remedied it," Mesa said. "And if my boat couldn't go I could get

another boat for them to take, if they had paid me in time."

Instead, the International Port opted to send the packages on two cargo

planes. Sanchez said they departed the same day the ship was scheduled

to go out. On the cargo planes, they were able to send large items as well.

In Cuba, Robinson's 20-year-old sister, Maipu Marin Lopez, was first

told the items would arrive by Dec. 29. But that day came and went.

In mid-January, the first of the packages Robinson sent arrived. The

others came in bit by bit. The final item, the frame of a baby crib, did

not arrive until the first week of February – more than a month late,

though still in time for the baby.

"The most important thing is the crib for the baby, and I was upset it

had not arrived," she said.

Back in Miami, the dock where the Ana Cecilia once departed for Havana

is now empty. The building where Robinson sent his packages from is

closed. A sign advertising shipments to Cuba is gone.

Sanchez says they are no longer collecting packages at the terminal

because they have set up new sites around the city.

In fact, court documents show the International Port was served an

eviction complaint in January. Neil Ruben, an attorney for Shaw Marine

Terminal, said International Port voluntarily vacated the property. A

lawsuit claiming the company still owes rent dating back to October is

winding through the courts. So is another filed by Epic Shipping.

Sanchez and Nussbaum said International Port dispute the claims in both

lawsuits, though neither would go into detail.

"I assure you that everything is in order and this will all come out in

the litigation," Nussbaum said.

Families are still sending packages by plane, but the dream of maritime

shipping from Miami to Havana has, at least for the moment, sailed into

thin air.

Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this

report.

Follow Christine Armario on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/cearmario

Follow Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/08/v-fullstory/3330122/miami-cuba-seaborne-shipping-stops.html


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