Norwegian company looks at running ferry from Key West to Cuba

Representatives of one of Norway’s largest ferry operators met this week with the city of Key West’s port director, as city leaders say they won’t give up on the idea of landing a Key West-to-Cuba ferry.

The meeting between Norled executives and Port Director Doug Bradshaw on Thursday was a courtesy meeting requested by the Norwegians, according to city spokeswoman Alyson Crean.

But it’s one more sign that Key West is doing what it can to once again have a ferry service to Cuba, which sits nearly 100 nautical miles away. Ferries between the two nations stopped when the countries broke off diplomatic relations half a century ago. But relations were renewed in late 2014.

Norled is “considering the startup of a regular ‘day cruise service’ between Key West and a foreign destination, Ok-Hini Ronning wrote in a company e-mail to the city obtained by the Keynoter. The company would use a catamaran built to hold 300 passengers, the e-mail stated.

Crean confirmed the meeting took place but Norled has competition.

“Several companies are interested in doing a ferry service,” said Mayor Craig Cates. “I know there’s three. I met with two six to eight months ago.”

The city can eventually put out a request for proposals to find a company to run the ferry service, Cates said. But first, the city needs assurance from the federal government it would staff a new customs office here.

Last November, the Key West City Commission ordered staff to figure out if the existing ferry terminal, 100 Grinnell St., could be turned into a customs facility. Such a project is estimated to cost $2 million.

“Some companies have said, ‘We’ll pay $2 million if you give us a lease,’ ” Cates said.

Commissioner Richard Payne has pushed the Truman Waterfront as the best location for a Cuba ferry, but the Navy closed the harbor to the public in 2013 citing the need for military training as part of its national security mission.

Cates said the Navy hasn’t responded to requests by city leaders to sit down and discuss reopening the harbor.

Gwen Filosa, Key Info Net

May 28, 2016

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