Cruise line restarts Haiti port calls after protests

By David McFadden ,AP

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A U.S. cruise line on Tuesday re-established port calls to its fenced-in site and beach attraction in northern Haiti after suspending visits just over a week ago following a peaceful protest by area residents.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. suspended cruise ship stops to the Labadee port on Jan. 19 when its 15-deck Freedom of the Seas encountered a number of people in small boats staging a demonstration in the area’s turquoise bay. The 3,634-passenger vessel spent the night at sea instead of docking.

Since then, spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said the company has been in close communication with Haitian officials. They decided to restart port calls on Tuesday by sending its massive Allure of the Seas ship to Labadee, which has provided the largest source of tourism revenue to Haiti for decades.

“Based on our conversations, we feel comfortable that there will not be any significant impact on our guests’ ability to enjoy” the port, Martinez said in a Tuesday email.

There have been conflicting reports about the reasons for the protest in the northern bay, which coincided with an uptick in political protests in the Haitian capital. Cruise ship tourists don’t leave the 260-acre private beach resort, long a source of frustration to some area residents as well as political leaders of Cap-Haitien, a nearby city of roughly 200,000 people.

On Tuesday evening, the office of Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul said the government initiated talks with local residents over the weekend. Tourism Minister Stephanie Villedrouin tweeted that the government has been working “collaboratively with local people on sustainable projects.”

More Royal Caribbean vessels are scheduled to make port calls later this week to Labadee.

Each passenger to the cruise port pays a roughly US$10 tax to the Haitian government, producing more than US$6 million a year for the hemisphere’s poorest nation.

Local people in the village of Labadie could not immediately be contacted Tuesday about the recent talks with government officials or the reason for the recent protest.