The Jones Act vs Puerto Rico

I usually try to avoid the news. It only upsets me and there’s not really anything I can do about any of it. It frustrates me and makes me angry.  I’ve been getting my news from the internet, mostly emails and posts from friends.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot about how the Jones Act is supposedly “strangling” Puerto Rico. This is just another instance of ‘yellow journalism’, or as it’s more likely to be called these days “fake news’.

At least the NY Times got it straight about what the Jones Act covers: shipping from one US port to another must be on ships built in America, owned by Americans, and crewed by Americans. Yes, it is a cabotage law, and protectionist. But they’re far off target on the rest of what they had to say about it.

Yes, our ships do cost more. There are reasons for that. Mostly because our costs are generally higher in the USA than in many of the countries around the world which we compete with for shipping.

WHY are those costs so much higher? Regulations for one. Why do so many owners register with “flags of convenience” like Liberia, Panama, Marshall Islands, etc? I’ll tell you why- because they can get away with running their ships a hell of a lot cheaper!

If that means treating their crew like dogs, so be it. If that means running an old rust bucket until it breaks apart, so be it. If that means ‘cheating’ on the pollution regulations in order to evade paying for proper disposal, so be it.

Do you think the price of anything is the same in China as it is here? How about India?

Fact is, crew costs (which shippers insist is their highest expense) is negligible if you can use crew from any of a number of ‘third world’ countries. I see advertisements every day offering jobs for $200/day for unlimited ships officers. Less than peanuts to any American officer, but I notice dozens of foreigners begging for every one of those jobs. 🙁

Who could afford to work at a job like that here, when it costs us hundreds of dollars a year just to keep our documents current? Not to mention what it costs to get a mariners credential in the first place (tens of thousands if you’re wondering). And remember, most other countries subsidize their seafarers, the US does nothing to help us at all. Reagan even took away our promised health benefits.

Our wages are higher across the board, because our cost of living in America necessitates that. The people who work in our shipyards have to be able to survive here. Do you think our naval architects, welders, painters, engineers, machinists, electricians, etc should all work for $20/day like they do in many of the countries our ships compete with?

Mr. Chen, a qualified shipbuilding engineer, said he earned 8,000 yuan a month—around $1,165 today, and three times as much as China’s migrant workers earn on average—during the golden years.

That quote was from an “Investors Alert” article about how the Chinese shipyards are hurting due to the global slump in shipping. I’m sure Mr Chen is making even less money now (the $1,165 per month comes out to a little more than $7/hour on a 40 hour week). How many of our professional engineers would work for $7/hour? Or should even be asked to??? 

I hope you’ll realize that we would have a total of 0 people to work in our shipyards to build our ships OR on our vessels to deliver the goods to Puerto Rico or anywhere else covered by the Jones Act (coastal US shipping- one US port to another). We would have about 0 American ships left after a few years, once all of our old ones gave out.

They would all be replaced by cheaper foreign ships, with cheaper foreign crews.

Yep, we could all save a few more pennies at Walmart, but is it really worth it?

The Jones Act was intended to ensure that we would always have a fleet. A certain amount of American ships. Ships we could depend on in any circumstance.

It was intended to ensure that we would always have the capacity to build the specialized military ships so that we could defend ourselves without having to depend on somebody else’s fleet. It was intended to ensure that we would always have trained shipyard workers to build those ships and crews to sail them.

Do you realize that during the Gulf War we could barely supply the troops? Plenty of our ‘allies’ refused to allow us to use their ships. We were also very, very short on people to crew up the vessels we did have. They were calling out old men from retirement (and waiving their need for current documents).

The NY Times article makes light of the fact that there are no more U-boats cruising our shorelines, like that’s the only threat we have to worry about. They pretend the Jones Act is obsolete because we aren’t at war.

Anybody remember the “War on Terror” we have supposedly been fighting since at least 9-11??? The reason we’ve had to give up our rights to freedom and privacy because there might be terrorists lurking around every corner?

Every American mariner is required to take security training, we are required to pass a background test (we must get a TWIC), we must swear an oath…

I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will faithfully and honestly, according to my best skill and judgment, and without concealment and reservation, perform all the duties required of me by the laws of the United States. I will faithfully and honestly carry out the lawful orders of my superior officers aboard a vessel.

Do you really want to eliminate the Jones Act and all the good it does? To save a few cents (maybe)?

Puerto Rico is suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria, but it has nothing to do with the Jones Act! There are hundreds of thousands of supplies stacked up in the ports. Items delivered by both US and foreign ships. None of them had any trouble delivering their cargo because of the Jones Act.

The problem on Puerto Rico has to do with the infrastructure on the island, NOT getting supplies to the island. Don’t throw out the Jones Act and all the behind the scenes good it does for everyone in this country, just because a few people (and the NY Times) don’t understand it.

4 thoughts on “The Jones Act vs Puerto Rico

  1. Jill, read the USCG report on the SS El Faro. I agree with you about FOCs but the lack of professionalism shown by crew and owners over this sinking, unfortunately, will give ammunition to the anti-Jones Act lobby. Cheers Robert.

    • Hi Robert, thanks for reading my post and commenting.
      I understand your comments about the owners, but what do you mean about the crew’s unprofessionalism?

  2. Hi Jill

    Reading between the lines of the USCG’s report the anti-Jones Act lobby will come to the conclusion that putting a clapped out forty year old shelter deck steam ship anywhere near a hurricane was unprofessional. The master didn’t visit the bridge for a full eight hours whilst that ship laboured, make what that of you will but many experienced seafarers will find that appalling. Regretfully those thirty-three avoidable deaths were down to him.
    A modern FOC container ship might have lost boxes under similar circumstances but it probably could have weathered the storm.
    There are, apart from The USA, very few countries left that outlaw cabotage and as globalisation increases I suspect that the US mariners unions will have an uphill fight against losing the Jones Act.
    The UK lost this battle years ago and Canada does not have one ocean going merchant ship flying the Canadian flag. You might find the following website interesting

    http://maritime-executive.com/editorials/australia-not-alone-in-cabotage-battle

    Unfortunately, I suspect that ITF President Paddy Crumlin is too optimistic.

    I follow your busy life on your blog with interest, keep it going.
    Cheers, Robert.

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