Carnival officials: We won't sail to Cuba until Cuban-born Americans can cruise

Facing increasing public pressure and potential lawsuits, Carnival Corporation announced Monday morning that its volunteerism-based cruise line Fathom will not take its inaugural cruise to Cuba until Cuban government officials agree to allow Cuban-born Americans to travel to Cuba on its ships.

Fathom also announced that effective immediately, it is accepting bookings for Fathom cruises to Cuba from all individuals, including Cuban-born Americans, for cruises on the 704-passenger Adonia cruise ship that are set to begin with every-other-week cruises starting May 1.

“We have an obligation to all our employees, and to the communities in which they work and live, to be the best corporate citizen we can be."

— Arnold Donald, Carnival Corp. President & CEO

In making the announcement, Carnival Corp. president and CEO Arnold Donald sent a letter to the company’s 120,000 employees explaining the company’s position, a sharp change from its decision last week to accept Cuba’s regulations and not allow Cuban-born Americans to sail on the cruise.

“We have an obligation to all our employees, and to the communities in which they work and live, to be the best corporate citizen we can be,” Donald said in the employee letter. “We believe this approach best supports that objective.”

Donald said he remains confident that Cuban officials will change their minds, considering the fact that Cuban-born Americans are already allowed to travel to Cuba by air.

“As we continue our discussions with Cuba, and in anticipation of Fathom travelers being on equal footing with those who travel by air, we are accepting bookings from all travelers, including Cuba-born individuals,” Donald said. “However, if Cuba’s decision is delayed beyond May 1, we will delay the start of our sailings.”

It’s a high-stakes game of political chicken with Cuba that Carnival Corp. feels it will win. The company faced public scrutiny as well and was sued late last week by Cuban-born Americans looking to be able to take the cruise under protection of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Donald said he is confident that Cuban officials will change their position, but that the company could not justify keeping Cuban-born Americans from booking the voyage.

“We are privileged to be the first cruise company to be taking guests from the U.S. to Cuba and back in over 50 years, as travel is one of the great equalizers in bringing the world closer together,” he said. “We take great pride in our diversity as a corporation. With 120,000 employees representing more than 60 countries from around the world, respecting the sensitivities of people from all backgrounds is a core value.”

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