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Judge Orders Cruise Companies to Pay More Than $436 Million for Docking at Seized Terminal in Cuba -- WSJ

The Wall Street Journal · 01/06/2023 15:42

By Mengqi Sun

Four major cruise lines say they will appeal a recent ruling that would force them to pay roughly $436 million in total damages to a company that owned a port terminal in Havana prior to the Cuban Revolution.

The ruling in favor of Havana Docks Corp., owner of the Havana Cruise Port Terminal before the Cuban revolution, marked an important milestone for Cuban-Americans seeking compensation for property confiscated by the Castro regime.

A federal judge in Miami on Dec. 30 ordered Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and MSC Cruises SA to pay about $109 million each in damages plus attorney fees to Havana Docks to settle claims the cruise companies used its port to conduct business between 2016 and 2019, according to court documents.

Havana Docks, a Delaware-registered company established in 1917, has remained in existence mainly to regain ownership of the terminal in Havana and has three board members, including Mickael Behn and his mother Aphra Behn, who are the descendants of the original owners, according to court documents.

Despite an initial expectation of hundreds of lawsuits based on claims, only 44 have been filed against 82 companies and their subsidiaries since the Trump administration ended the suspension of Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act in May 2019, according to data from the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., a New York-based trade group. The provision allows certain U.S. nationals with claims on properties confiscated by the Cuban government on or after Jan. 1, 1959 to seek compensation from the companies operating those properties.

Of the 44 suits filed since May 2019, one settled with plaintiffs in 2021 and 10 others are going through the courts of appeals, while six others have been dismissed in appeal, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. The verdict in favor of Havana Docks is the first from a district court, the data shows.

Swiss cement giant LafargeHolcim Ltd., now known as Holcim, in 2021 agreed in principle to settle a lawsuit brought by a group of 25 U.S. nationals who claimed the company used their confiscated Cuban property to conduct business, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.

"When doing business in Cuba, companies ought to carefully consider the consequences of trafficking in confiscated property," Roberto Martinez, a lawyer for Havana Docks and a partner at law firm Colson Hicks Eidson, said in a statement on the ruling.

Spokespeople for MSC Cruises, Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean said in separate statements this week that they disagreed with the rulings and intended to appeal.

The ruling comes after the judge in the case, Beth Bloom, signaled last March that she agreed that the use of the Cuban port constituted trafficking in confiscated property owned by Havana Docks. The company holds a certified claim from 1971 by the U.S. Justice Department's Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, which at the time valued the loss of its confiscated property in Cuba at more than $9.1 million.

Write to Mengqi Sun at mengqi.sun@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 06, 2023 15:42 ET (20:42 GMT)

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