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"US OFAC Legal" live-aboard scuba diving in Cuba for US res / cits

"US OFAC Legal" live-aboard scuba diving in Cuba for US res / cits

Old Jul 27, 15, 5:44 pm
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"US OFAC Legal" live-aboard scuba diving in Cuba for US res / cits

Under current US law, American residents and citizens may visit Cuba under certain restrictions (covered in another thread), including a US Treasury approved "people to people program". None to date has existed for scuba diving.

That has changed, with the Ocean For Youth Foundation and the MV Jardines Aggressor.

People-to-People

Travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens is different than travel to any other country due to the long-standing economic embargo. Tourism by U.S. citizens is not permitted, however, travel through specially licensed “People-to-People” educational programs is allowed.

Ocean For Youth’s Cuba Travel Program is in partnership with the Jardines Aggressor, a Panamanian Company and under a special educational program licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under 515.565(b)(2) of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 CFR Part 515 (the “Regulations”).Under OFAC regulations, there are specific procedures and guidelines that must be followed.

Direct People-to-People interactions between Americans with Cubans (youths and their parents; local marine officials; and marine professionals) will provide a unique opportunity for U.S. travel participants to understand the setting in which Cubans experience their own marine environment. Individuals on the island – particularly Cuban professionals and Cuban youth (and their parents) who have limited opportunities to meet foreign counterparts – will acquire different perspectives on marine life, conservation, and stewardship. Travel participants with the Foundation who meet this slice of the Cuban population will experience a closeness with their Cuban counterparts where there had not been before.

The Foundation firmly believes that educating not only Americans but also Cuban youth about these very important aspects of the underwater world will strengthen both local (Cuban) and international preservation of Cuba’s natural marine environment for these youth’s own kids. The Foundation takes pride in the hope that these meetings between and among American and Cuban participants will vet out those youth who will someday be the guardians and defenders of the marine environment.

Seven days of our visit will be spent in Gardens of the Queen National Park, Cuba's first marine park onboard the Jardines Aggressor, where visitors will accompany Cuban specialists and be able to scuba dive in one of the healthiest marine ecosystems in Cuba.

Program Requirements

Full-Time Schedule: Under the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens for tourism is strictly prohibited. However, the US Government permits licensed "people-to-people" educational trips.

Under this program, "each traveler must have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba." Oceans For Youth has designed a full-time educational schedule in which travelers are required to participate in all activities, in compliance with the US Government rules for travel to Cuba. Link.
The two largest live aboard dive boat franchises in the US include Peter Hughes' "Dancer" fleet and the Aggressor fleet. I've dived with both in places like Chuuk (Truk), the Galápagos Islands, etc. Recently, both companies merged under CEO Wayne Brown and President Wayne Hasson (who are listed as Board of Directors members of the Ocean For Youth Foundation).

Now the company has a licensed dive offering for American divers wishing to experience pristine Caribbean diving in the famous "Jardines de la Reina" by collaborating with the nonprofit Ocean For Youth Foundation, aboard the Panamá registered MV Jardines Aggressor.

As part of the Cuba Travel Program, travelers will spend six days scuba diving Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina) National Park which is located 60 miles off the southern coast of Cuba. This chain of 250 virgin coral and mangrove islands is emcompassed by 75 miles of beautiful clear turquoise water. Cuban scientists and biologists will host educational presentations while on the Jardines Aggressor about the importance of this ecosystem.This area was declared a marine park in 1996 and has been protected since then.

Travelers will see pristine coral reefs, steep walls dropping from the reef to the abyss, large populations of adult fish including snapper and goliath grouper up to 400 lbs. There are many species of sharks including; nurse, black tip, lemon, silky and the great hammerhead

Learn about Cuba's history and the unique marine environment first hand from world renowned experts such as, Dr. Julio A. Baisre. Interactive exchanges will discuss how Cuba has maintained one of the healthiest marine ecosystems in the Caribbean. This 9 night program, Thursday to Saturday, will include 7 nights onboard the Jardines Aggressor where guests will dive the Gardens of the Queen. During the week, biologists and Cuban specialists will host discussions and presentations on the marine environment, conservation, and the importance of this magnificient ecosystem.

Ocean for Youth Foundation is extremely excited about the Cuba Travel Program. The Jardines Aggressor yacht owners have over 23 years experience in Cuba and are working with the Administration of the National Park to be the sole diving liveaboard operation allowed in the Gardens of The Queen National Park.
For those of you familiar with the Aggressor Fleet and other Live Aboards, "Jardines Aggressor" is the newly refurbished (in Ft. Myers, FL) "Ocean Diver", which dived Cuba from Mexico and is suited for deep waters travel.

The Cuban government apparently only authorizes 1,000 annual dive permits for the Jardines de la Reina National Park (so named by Cristóbal Colón for Queen Isabela of Spain). Those I've known who've dived Jardines say it's pristine and beautiful diving (for the Caribbean). Presumably, this was Fidel Castru Ruz' favorite diving and fishing destination in Cuba, and this was at least part of the reason the Cuban government extended National Park status and protection to this area.

Up to five dives daily from the Jardines Aggressor and tenders are offered, as is Nitrox. The Jardines Aggressor will port and pick up passengers at Jucaro, Cuba.

The other company I believe has offered diving at the Jardines de la Reina is "Ocean Doctors" / Avalon, and AFAIK they use old drilling tenders anchored in one spot using tenders to ferry divers to sites (how very Thorfinn of them).

Last edited by JDiver; Jul 27, 15 at 6:23 pm
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