The Jones Act, a century-old maritime law, proves tough to sink

Washington Examiner

Feb. 6, 2018

By Diana Stancy Correll

Lawmakers and leaders of the maritime industry are rallying support for the Jones Act, a law intended to protect American shipping and maritime interests, as critics try to repeal or provide exemptions to the rule.

The Jones Act was established in 1920 as part of the Merchant Marine Act and requires that only U.S. ships transport cargo between U.S. ports. Likewise, it also demands that the crew is composed of at least 75 percent American citizens and was intended to bolster the merchant marine fleet by eliminating foreign competition.

Critics say the measure is an outdated protectionist rule that complicates carrying cargo and boosts costs for consumers, a problem on display when foreign ships were needed to help ferry much-needed supplies to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico last year. Proponents argue it still is a critical aspect of U.S. national security and provides economic benefits.

“Is it a protectionist measure?” Jones Act proponent Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., told the Washington Examiner. “Absolutely. It protects our national security, it protects our families, it protects our economy.”

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., pointed out that the Jones Act is “absolutely essential” to national security for various reasons, such as the fact the military often depends on commercial fleets to help assist the military reserve fleet moving cargo in times of conflict.

“The Jones Act provides the foundation for the transport of strategic military cargo around the world,” Garamendi told the Washington Examiner.

Matthew Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America, said this support from commercial fleets to move cargo is “absolutely critical in times of war” because it’s uncertain if foreign nations have interests that align with those of the U.S.

“It’s good that we’re not dependent on a foreign nation to do that, because you don’t know where their interests will be,” Paxton said.

Garamendi also noted that requiring the crew members to be primarily American citizens means that individuals from countries that don’t share American interests will not have access to U.S. waterways.

“Between these ports, we’re not worrying about sailors and mariners from countries with whom we have deep concerns,” Garamendi said.

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