– The cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam, on its present voyage catering to a gay clientele, docked Sunday in the southern Spanish port of Malaga after Moroccan authorities prohibited it from making its scheduled port of call in Casablanca.
The vessel, carrying 1,564 passengers and 869 crew members, docked about 7:25 a.m. and was scheduled to depart from Malaga later in the day, Malaga Port Authority spokesmen told Efe.
The RSVP Vacations travel agency, which specializes in organizing tourist trips for gay and lesbian customers, said Saturday in a letter to its clients that its agent in the port of Casablanca had reported that "the authorities have cancelled the scheduled July 1 visit despite having previously confirmed it."
The agency said that they considered this to be "disappointing news" and added that the decision was made after the "visit of a gay cruise ship" turned into "a public and potentially controversial matter."
Despite the cruise ship's claims, Morocco's Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad denied that the ship was somehow prevented from docking.
"We don't ban cruise ships here and we never ask our visitors about their sexual preferences," he told Reuters.
The minister also reiterated that the cruise line can dock in Morocco for future trips.
In Morocco the same-sex relationships are unlawful and punishable to up to three years in jail. Their penal code also bans sex outside marriage, and buying alcohol.
The ship, which belongs to the U.S. company Holland America Line, had scheduled a program for its stay in Casablanca that included a visit to the Hassan II Mosque and to several souks - or traditional marketplaces - in the city.
After the stop in Casablanca, which was supposed to last for about 12 hours, the cruise ship was due to sail to Cadiz, also in southern Spain, and then to continue on to Ibiza in the Balearic Islands, then to the eastern Spanish city of Valencia and finally to end its journey in Barcelona.
Organizers emphasized the "historic welcoming tolerance for gay tourists" in Morocco, despite the fact that the religion - Islam - and the laws of the North African country punish homosexuality.