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US Cruise Ship Arrives in Havana

Cubans watch as the first US-to-Cuba cruise ship to arrive in the island nation in decades glides into the port of Havana, on May 2, 2016.

Cubans watch as the first US-to-Cuba cruise ship to arrive in the island nation in decades glides into the port of Havana, on May 2, 2016.

For the first time in almost 40 years, a U.S. cruise ship has arrived in Havana, Cuba.

The Carnival Cruise Lines’ ship Adonia and its 700 passengers left Miami on Sunday, arriving the next day on the island nation.

Hundreds of Cubans gathered to watch the arrival of the Adonia. They cheered and took photographs as the ship docked.

AP news agency spoke to Mercedes Lopez in Havana. She is a 54-year-old nurse. She waited for hours to see the Adonia arrive at Havana’s cruise terminal.

“This is history,” she said. “This is a little step forward, a little step towards normalization, peace, family unification.”

The passengers of the Adonia were welcomed with live music and dancing inside the cruise terminal. A crowd of Cubans waited in Old Havana’s Plaza to take tourists on walking tours.

Tens of thousands of Cubans have tried to cross the Florida Straits on homemade boats. Thousands are believed to have died in that process. Cruises and other ships often rescue those stranded in homemade boats.

The cruise ship’s arrival marks another step in restoring U.S.-Cuba relations. But, the voyage almost did not happen. Cuban officials wanted to ban Cubans who had left the country from sailing back to their birthplace. The officials feared they would cause political problems. U.S. and Cuban officials settled the matter during talks.

U.S. cruises are expected to bring Cuba tens of millions of dollars. More than 10 other cruise lines have announced plans to run U.S.-Cuba cruises. If they all begin operations, Cuba could earn more than $80 million a year, says the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

But, environmental scientists fear that a major increase in cruise travel will seriously damage the island. For now, Cuba has the healthiest marine life in the Caribbean Sea. Experts from the Environmental Defense Fund’s Cuba program say that an increase in large ships in Cuba’s coastal waters will harm coral reefs and marine life, and reduce water quality.

Air service between the two nations also is expected to restart later this year. The U.S. and Cuba agreed to permit 20 flights a day from the U.S. to Havana, and 10 daily flights to Cuba’s nine other international airports.

Cuba received a record 3.5 million visitors in 2015, according to Reuters news agency. That is a 17 percent increase from 2014. Reuters says the number of American visitors in 2015 rose 77 percent from 2014.

Experts worry that the island is not yet ready for the growing number of American visitors. The Cuban government is seeking foreign investment to develop its tourism industry.

I’m Kathleen Struck.

Ken Bredemeier reported this story for VOA News. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English, with additional materials from AP and Reuters news services. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

cruise - n. a journey on a boat or ship

dock - v. to bring a ship into a port or area of water where ships are unloaded

terminal - n. a building where passengers can wait and get on and off (of a ship, train, bus, etc.)

tourists - n. people who travel to a place for pleasure

voyage - n. a long trip, usually on a boat

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