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Cuba refuses U.S. cruise ship

By
Danielle Haynes

Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Passengers on board a cruise ship bound for Cuba -- but turned away by Cuban authorities -- returned to port in South Florida on Monday, some missing the opportunity to see relatives for the first time in decades.

The Grand Classica cruise ship was supposed to dock in Cuba on Friday morning after leaving Palm Beach a day earlier. Instead, it traveled to the Bahamas.

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The ship is operated by Bahamas Paradise, but Viva Travel chartered the vessel for the trip with the purpose of taking Cuban-Americans to visit family members they haven't seen in years due to travel restrictions. Viva said it had documented permission from Cuba to make the trek and dock there.

Viva Travel CEO Peter Regalado said he's working to compensate the passengers for the failed trip. He said Cuban officials offered no explanation for turning the vessel away.

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"We are upset and sad for all the clients that ultimately wanted to see their family members in Cuba," he said. "Once again the Cuban government gets to laugh at the Cuban exiles through this action with no excuse."

Some passengers were angry they weren't able to visit with loved ones for the first time in years.

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"There was a kid there, and I almost cried for him because he said he didn't see and he didn't know his grandfather that is dying from cancer," passenger Shalva Berti told WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach.

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Another passenger, Zeida Saavedr, told WPTV-TV in West Palm Beach that passengers' feelings were hurt. She planned to visit her 80-year-old brother.

"We Cubans, we get upset very easy, so we got upset on the boat and everybody's still upset because we have no answers," she said.

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