Transportation Institute Cites Importance of Jones Act Fleet

June 2010

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National Maritime Day ceremonies often focus on the proud history of the U.S. Merchant Marine.

A Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes the American-flag fleet and U.S. mariners recently suggested that National Maritime Day also should be an occasion to appreciate the value of the Jones Act fleet, which is vital not only to the industry but to the country’s overall economy.

On May 19, the Transportation Institute issued a news release in which it pointed out the “40,000-plus vessels that move cargo and passengers between U.S. ports generate nearly 500,000 family-sustaining jobs and provide an annual payroll in excess of $29 billion. U.S.-flag vessels in domestic waterborne commerce are the largest single component of America’s Merchant Marine…. Without the Jones Act fleet, the American economy would sputter and fail.”

Enacted in 1920, the Jones Act requires that cargo moving between U.S. ports be carried in vessels that are U.S.-owned, U.S.-built and U.S.-crewed. Other laws and statutes apply the same ground rules to the movement of passengers, towing, dredging, and marine salvage. The basic requirements of the Jones Act have been the foundation of U.S. maritime policy since 1817.

The institute’s release pointed out that in a strong economy, Jones Act vessels will carry more than 1 billion tons of cargo. This activity generates $100.3 billion in economic output and contributes $11.4 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

The release further noted that the “499,676 jobs the Jones Act creates and sustains are spread across the nation, but the top 10 states for Jones Act employment are, in order: Louisiana, Texas, California, Washington, New York, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Illinois, and Tennessee.”

Moreover, in light of the global push for environmentally sound operations, a key paragraph in the release described waterborne commerce as “the greenest form of transportation. A large U.S.-flag Great Lakes freighter can carry a ton of cargo 600-plus miles on a gallon of fuel compared to 200 for a train, and do so while producing 70 percent less carbon dioxide. A 24-barge tow on the inland rivers moves the same amount of grain as 384 rail cars or 1,680 highway trucks – again a boon to the environment and a much-needed lessening of congestion on the nation’s overburdened rail beds and interstates.”

Finally, the institute stated that in addition to promoting commerce, America’s cabotage laws also “play a vital role in the nation’s ability to defend its interests overseas. When American troops are stationed abroad, more than 90 percent of the materiel they require moves by ships. Jones Act vessels engage in these transoceanic voyages, but equally important are its mariners who began their careers in the Jones Act trades who crew the other U.S.-flag vessels ferrying arms and supplies to war zones.”

The Transportation Institute was founded in 1967. Its self-described mission “is to enhance American political, economic and military security by advocating a sound, comprehensive national maritime policy which secures the role of the U.S.-flag industry in both foreign and domestic trades.”

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