Crowley Maritime: Puerto Rico Jones Act Waiver ‘Not Needed’

jones act
File photo: Crowley Maritime Corporation

U.S. shipping company and leading Jones Act carrier Crowley Maritime Corp. issued a statement Thursday opposing the Trump administration’s decision to approve a 10-day waiver of the Jones Act in Puerto Rico.

Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke approved the waiver of the federal Jones Act early Thursday morning following a request Wednesday from the governor of Puerto Rico and the Secretary of Defense’s determination that a waiver is in the interest of national defense, the DHS said in a statement.

The waiver will be in effect for 10 days after signature and covers all products being shipped to Puerto Rico.

In a statement, the DHS said a waiver will ensure that all options are available to move and distribute goods to Puerto Rico in the coming days. “It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms,” said Acting Secretary Duke.

But according to Jacksonville-based Crowley Maritime Corp, one of the main Jones Act carriers providing regular service between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico, the waiver was not needed as there are enough American and international ships responding to the crisis already.

“In this time of humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, Crowley Maritime, along with others in the U.S. maritime industry, are focused solely on working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration, Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the government of Puerto Rico and commercial customers to get as much relief cargo to the island as quickly and efficiently as possible,” the company said in an emailed statement to gCaptain.

“If a Jones Act waiver was needed, we would not be opposed. But in this case, it is not needed. By the end of the day Friday, we will have more than 4,100 loaded containers on our terminal in Puerto Rico awaiting distribution, and thousands more on the way. The key to getting aid to those who need it is to expedite the throughput of relief cargo from the mainland to the port in San Juan to the people. This we are doing. Nearly all FEMA loads at our Puerto Rico terminal have now been dispatched, and thousands more are on the way. There is plenty of U.S. vessel capacity to respond to this crisis, and no amount of foreign ships arriving to the island is going to get relief cargo into the hands of those who need it any faster. In fact, they will likely add to the congestion at the ports and may cause more disruptions. We continue to believe that Americans responding to Americans in need offer the greatest opportunity for success in Puerto Rico,” the statement added.

Also on Thursday, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and John Garamendi (D-CA), Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, raised similar concerns over the Trump Administration’s decision to issue the 10-day waiver of the Jones Act.

Contrary to many published reports, adequate domestic shipping capability exists, and waiving the Jones Act requirement will not speed up relief for Puerto Rico, according to the Congressman.

“Shipping carriers that comply with the Jones Act have more than enough capacity for a robust relief effort for Puerto Rico,” said Ranking Member Garamendi. “Getting relief to the island isn’t the problem. The challenge is in getting relief off the docks. Right now, 6,000 containers full of everything the island needs are languishing on the docks in Puerto Rico because there are no trucks available to distribute them. The entire American maritime industry has done outstanding work to coordinate with local governments to provide relief. The Jones Act is essential to maintain a robust shipbuilding industry and sealift capacity, and waiving it will not help solve Puerto Rico’s problems.”

“The Jones Act is about making sure our nation has the domestic capability to move troops and supplies in times of war,“ said Chairman Hunter. “It’s about ensuring that our country maintains a strong manufacturing base with good well-paying jobs. Foreign and corporate interests have long opposed the Jones Act and have spread fake news that the law is a hindrance to Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts. What is clear from our listening session this morning is that Jones Act vessels can provide the needed capacity to bring aid to Puerto Rico, and they stand willing and able to do so. Waiving the Jones Act will do nothing to speed up much needed aid to Puerto Rico’s residents. I hope the Administration will reconsider the facts and rescind its temporary waiver.”

The statements come as Senator John McCain introduced legislation that would permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act.

“While I welcome the Trump administration’s Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico, this short-term, 10-day exemption is insufficient to help the people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from Hurricane Maria,” said Senator McCain. “Our legislation would permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act, an antiquated, protectionist law that has driven up costs and crippled Puerto Rico’s economy. For years, I have fought to fully repeal the Jones Act, which has long outlived its purpose to the benefit of special interests. It’s time for Congress to take action, end this injustice, and help our fellow citizens in this time of need.”

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which is commonly referred to as the Jones Act, requires goods being shipping between two ports in the United States be carried on American-built ships that are mostly owned and crewed by American citizens.

Prior to Puerto Rico, the last Jones Act waivers issued in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in September and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.