RABAT, Morocco — A Holland America cruise ship carrying more than 2,000 gay travelers was turned away from a scheduled port of call stop to Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city as well as its chief port.
RSVP Vacations, which specializes in organizing gay and lesbian cruises, told its passengers aboard the cruise ship “Nieuw Amsterdam” that the planned July 1 visit was stopped by authorities in Morocco.
The visit was scheduled to be the first and the only non-European leg of a week-long journey for the cruise liner, which sailed from Barcelona, Spain, on June 30 with mostly American and European passengers.
In a letter to the passengers, later tweeted out to media outlets globally, RSVP Vacations company executives wrote:
“Our port agent in Casablanca has advised us that authorities in Morocco have — despite previous confirmations — now denied our scheduled visit. For all of us, this is a very disappointing development.”
“It was ultimately the decision by local authorities in Morocco that has necessitated us to adjust our plans.”
The stop over in Morocco was billed the first visit of its kind to a country that has an Islamic-inspired penal code that bans sex outside marriage and its citizens from buying alcohol.
In an interview with Reuters, Morocco’s Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad said no official decision had been made to prevent the ship from stopping in Morocco.
“We don’t ban cruise ships here and we never ask our visitors about their sexual preferences,” he told Reuters. Asked if the Nieuw Amsterdam could still visit Morocco, he said, “They can if the organizers want to.”
The cruise ship’s visit had caught the attention of local media in this generally conservative society where the law deems same-gender sexual relationships “lewd or unnatural” and punishes them with six months to three years in jail.