All this talk about the Jones Act and Puerto Rico



This isn’t aviation geek, miles and points, or even airline travel related. I’m a merchant mariner, holder of a 100 ton Captain’s license for inland and near coastal waters, bestowed on me from the United States Coast Guard (USCG), and so I felt the need to weigh in on this talk of the Jones Act. I don’t really have many opinions on whether the Jones Act waiver should or should not continue, but rather, I feel strongly that folks should know what the Jones Act is.

About the Jones Act

The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is US law, introduced by Senator Wesley Jones (thus the name). Some key provisions of the Jones Act are:

  • Ships that travel between two points in the US must be US Built or largely impacted–my words–by US Shipyards.
  • Ships that travel between two points in the US must be crewed by at least 75% US seamen
  • Ships that travel between two points in the US must be owned and registered by US companies, and US Flagged.

There are other provisions of the Jones Act. Some that matter more or less to folks. One that impacted me personally, is that a seaman injured onboard a ship is provided maintenance and cure. That is different than workman’s comp. For me, it meant that when I broke my foot while I was running a passenger ferry from Bay Shore, NY to Fire Island, NY, the company covered all of my medical expenses as well as my regular bills–which at the time were just cell phone and car insurance. This sort of thing is important, because sometimes seaman while living on a vessel, have families at home to provide for.

Why the Jones Act made sense to be waived for Puerto Rico

The simple fact of the matter is, that when an island or any region is at risk, you want to get the most aid there, as soon as you can. This is why it made sense for the US Government to waive the Jones Act. The US suspended the act for 10 days. Was 10 days enough? It isn’t clear to me. But lets consider what this suspension meant. This suspension meant that foreign flagged ships, with foreign crew, and foreign ownership, could carry aid supplies between the Continental United States and Puerto Rico.

Lets consider for a moment what that implies. First of all, the implication is that US flagged carriers and crew might be otherwise impacted by Hurricane Irma, and not able to do their jobs in manning ships to get aid supplies to Puerto Rico. 10 days seems reasonable to try to get folks in Florida back to work.

Why the Jones Act doesn’t matter for the United States Virgin Islands

The Jones Act is important, however, it doesn’t really impact the US Virgin Islands, because they are exempt from the act, as an addition to section 21, which was enacted in 1936, as the addition stated: “And provided further, that the coastwise laws of the United States shall not extend to the Virgin Islands of the United States…” So what does this mean? This means that non-US ships can transport aid to the US Virgin Islands (which are terribly in need, by the way), from the US, without the necessary Jones Act requirements.

Wrapping Up

Overall, the point of my post is an attempt to educate folks on what the Jones Act is and is not. I realize that the Jones Act is being politicized, and that is unfortunate. As a merchant mariner, I feel like we need to acknowledge the value of the act. Really, we should welcome help for Puerto Rico from any nation, and I think largely we–the US–are, but if the Jones Act waiver has ended, I think this means that we, US Mariners, need to be pushing harder to be able to transport the necessary aid from US ports directly to Puerto Rico. If US Shipping companies and Mariners are not available, then perhaps the Jones Act waiver should be expended. But I suspect–with no inside knowledge–that US mariners are ready to get back to work. So hopefully they have already gotten back to work, so we can get our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico back up to speed. I am further hopeful, that US Flagged ships and really any other flagged ships are helping the US and British Virgin Islands to rebuild. These hurricanes were fierce. We need to band together to recuperate.

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