Unused Jones Act Waiver Set to Expire at Midnight

File photo: The LNG-ready Jones Act tanker MT Texas. Photo: Philly Shipyard

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will not further extend the limited Jones Act waiver applying to tankers transporting fuel in hurricane-hit areas of the United States, which will allow the waiver to expire tonight at midnight. 

The temporary limited waiver was first issued September 8 at the recommendation of the Departments of Defense and Energy due to severe disruptions in the oil supply system resulting from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The waiver was originally set to expire in one week, but it was extended once to September 22, 2017.

The waiver applied specifically to the transportation of refined petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, being shipped from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico.

“CBP has not received any requests to waiver the Jones Act since the limited waiver was issued.  Foreign vessels that are transporting petroleum products under the limited waiver may load these products until 11:59 tonight,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in statement provided to gCaptain.

A spokesperson for the CBP confirmed to gCaptain that it had not received any waiver requests since September 11.

The fact that no foreign tankers were booked shows that the U.S.-flag Jones Act fleet had ample tonnage to get the much-needed fuel supplies back hurricane-hit areas, contrary to some misinformed editorials published in recent weeks stating that the Jones Act was prohibiting fuel from reaching Florida or raising prices for consumers in the wake of the hurricanes. 

Major Hurricanes

Fuel shortages in the Southeast United States began in late August when Hurricane Harvey dumped several feet of rain over the Texas Gulf Coast, at one point shutting down over a fifth of the United States’ refining capacity. Problems were later exacerbated by Hurricane Irma’s landfall in Florida on September 10 and the mass-evacuations that took place across the state prior to the storm. 

After Hurricane Irma had passed, however, an ‘armada’ of at least 26 U.S.-flag tankers carrying millions of gallons of gasoline and diesel were sent to replenish the State and began discharging as soon as ports had reopened. Among those were 18 Jones Act vessels belonging to Florida-based Crowley Maritime Corp., which brought in a combined 2.75 million barrels of gasoline and 500,000 barrels of diesel fuel within an eight-day period. 

With Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm this past Wednesday, it was unclear if the DHS was going to let the waiver expire or extend it further should it be needed to resupply supplies to Puerto Rico. 

On Friday, Crowley released a statement that it had four vessels loaded with a mix of relief and commercial cargo currently en route to its Isla Grande terminal in San Juan, with two more scheduled to follow. The vessels were expected to arrive as soon as the U.S. Coast Guard reopens the port, which could be as early as Saturday morning. In total, these six vessels will bring in more than 2,200 full container loads of food and aid cargo, as well as commercial goods, to the U.S. territory.

Of course, foreign vessels not coming from the U.S. mainland will also bring additional supplies to the island. Currently, nearly two-thirds of the vessels calling on Puerto Rico are foreign, and virtually all of the fuel transported to Puerto Rico is delivered by foreign-flag vessels.

The last Jones Act waiver was issued in December 2012, for petroleum products to be delivered for relief assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.