An obscure US law continues to entangle shipping companies, this time pulling in AP Moller-Maersk.

Following actions against cruise lines and US-based firms, the Danish containership giant is the latest shipping company to be hit with a lawsuit under the Helms-Burton Act, passed in 1996 and designed to strengthen the ongoing US blockade against Cuba.

In part, it allows US nationals who hold property nationalised by the Communist Party of Cuba that took power in 1959 to collect damages if someone is deemed to have "trafficked" in the property.

The law will likely continue to be an issue for shipping.

"There's still an awful lot of paperwork being filed by plaintiffs and defendants. Some of the cases are in the courts of appeals," John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said.

"There's been no indication that the Biden administration wants to step in and interrupt."

Like Seaboard Marine and Crowley Maritime, which are facing similar actions, Maersk is potentially liable for millions of dollars after being sued by more than a dozen members of the Blanco Rosell family, led by 91-year-old Odette Blanco de Fernandez.

Before the Cuban Revolution began in 1953, de Fernandez's brothers — Alfredo, Florentino and Enrique — and Byron Blanco Rosell held equal holdings in Maritima Mariel and a 70-year concession from the government to build port facilities at Mariel.

In 1960, the company and concession were nationalised and, in 2009, the current Cuban government developed the Mariel Special Economic Zone on the land the concession covered.

The lawsuit alleges that since "at least 2016", Maersk had been running service to the port from both non-US ports and New Orleans aboard six ships.

"The confiscated property has never been returned nor has adequate and effective compensation ever been provided, including for the 70-year concession or any other property interests," the complaint, filed in the US federal court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, read.

Maersk declined to comment.

Not alone

The Seaboard and Crowley lawsuits are based on the same allegations, with the Blanco Rosell family accusing them of trafficking as their ships called on Mariel.

Both those lawsuits were filed in the US federal court for the Southern District of Florida, with Seaboard sued in December and Crowley on 8 February.

In addition, shuttered sugar company North American Sugar Industries sued German ship operator BBC Chartering for shipping wind-farm parts to a port it once owned, while Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines have been sued by the Havana Docks Corp for using its former facilities.

All came under title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows damages for trafficking. It was subsequently suspended by every president until Donald Trump lifted restrictions in 2019.

More on the way?

Since then, Kavulich said 33 lawsuits have been filed.

Some are from certified plaintiffs who had their claims adjudicated by the Department of Justice's Foreign Claims Settlement Commission in the 1970s and others, such as the Blanco Rosell's lawsuits, from uncertified claimants who defected from Cuba to the US.

Kavulich, whose organisation advises businesses on US-Cuba relations but does not take a position on the US blockade, said there were nearly 6,000 certified claims and an "unknown number" of uncertified claims.

He said there was a general sense that there could be changes to the US stance towards Cuba under US President Joe Biden, but no idea when that change might happen or what it might entail.

As far as title III goes, Kavulich said Biden could use it as a bargaining chip with the European Union.

After the US passed the Helms-Burton Act, the European Union enacted blocking provisions allowing European businesses to nullify US court judgments over Cuban business dealings, and allowing those companies to seek damages for its application.

Kavulilch said the EU had committed to issuing a letter guiding European businesses on navigating Helms-Burton Act lawsuits and retaining US legal counsel to aid defendants.

"They never did that," he said.

"If you're the Biden administration, you're looking at quid pro quos. Giving up title III ... what is the Biden administration going to want for it and what is the European Commission going to give for it? We don't know the answer.

"I do know there are more cases coming, both certified and non-certified."