An 11-member delegation from Tunisia arrived in Miami Sunday to promote the North African country as a cruise destination — just in time for a media firestorm to erupt over Israeli cruise passengers being denied entry.

As the annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference wrapped up Thursday, members working at the Tunisia booth expressed surprise and dismay over the flap, which resulted in Norwegian Cruise Line canceling all calls to the port. They puzzled over who was responsible for the incident, which they said must have resulted from a mistake or misunderstanding, possibly over visa requirements.

Maha Ben Slimane, the marketing and communication manager for the cruise terminal at the port of La Goulette, said Tunisia had worked hard to bring Norwegian ships to the port in the first place. She said the government’s official response has been that “Tunisia is a country of human rights. We do not discriminate or restrict any nationality.”

“Tunisians are welcoming; we do not have problems with anyone,” she said. “It’s a pity.”

Port director Sahben Ben Fadhl said his group in Miami was in a “bad position” after being sent by the government to promote Tunisia to the U.S. market. But he said he did not blame Norwegian for their reaction.

“We understand their decision,” he said.

News about the incident broke Sunday after B’nai Brith Canada, which had been notified by Canadian Jewish passengers, released a statement. Norwegian Cruise Line confirmed that “a small number” of guests with Israeli passports were not allowed to enter the country at the port of La Goulette because of a “last minute decision” by the government.

The issue had snowballed by Tuesday, when the Miami-based cruise operator announced that it would cancel all future port calls to Tunisia “to send a strong message to Tunisia and ports around the world that we will not tolerate such random acts of discrimination against our guests.”

Tags: ncl, tunisia
Photo Credit: A Pullmantur cruise ship at Tunisia. alerom / Flickr