Non-Partisan National Commission: Jones Act Did Not Hinder Cleanup

New Report Confirms Industry's Assertions about Deepwater Horizon


Seafarers Log, February 2011

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For the American-flag maritime industry, perhaps the strangest aspect of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill involved baseless claims that a crucial law known as the Jones Act somehow hampered cleanup operations.

 

The incident response commander himself –Adm. Thad Allen – repeatedly countered those false assertions, as did maritime labor, other segments of the industry and other supporters, including members of Congress.

 

On Jan. 11, definitive word arrived as the final report was issued from the non-partisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The report – prepared by the independent entity at the request of President Barack Obama – clearly confirmed that the Jones Act did not prevent foreign vessels from assisting with the cleanup effort.

 

The following text from the report starts on page 142 and continues onto page 143: “Foreign companies and countries also offered assistance in the form of response equipment and vessels. The Coast Guard and National Incident Command accepted some of these offers and rejected others. News reports and politicians alleged that the federal government turned away foreign offers of assistance because of the Jones Act, a law preventing foreign vessels from participating in trade between U.S. ports. While decision makers did decline to purchase some foreign equipment for operational reasons—for example, Dutch vessels that would have taken weeks to outfit and sail to the region, and a Taiwanese super-skimmer that was expensive and highly inefficient in the Gulf—they did not reject foreign ships because of Jones Act restrictions. These restrictions did not even come into play for the vast majority of vessels operating at the wellhead, because the Act does not block foreign vessels from loading and then unloading oil more than three miles off the coast. When the Act did apply, the National Incident Commander appears to have granted waivers and exemptions when requested.

 

“In the end, the response technology that created the most controversy was not a mechanical tool like a skimmer or oil-water separator, but a chemical one.”

 

“This report confirms what Admiral Thad Allen and so many others have been saying all along: The Jones Act in no way, shape, and form hindered the BP clean-up effort,” said James Henry, Chairman of the Maritime Cabotage Task Force, to which the SIU is affiliated. “Thousands of American vessels were already at work cleaning up oil in the Gulf and, when necessary, qualified foreign vessels identified as suitable by unified command participated in the effort. We are pleased the President’s Commission has concluded the Jones Act did not obstruct efforts to clean up the worst oil spill in U.S. history.”

 

During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Admiral Allen said “at no time” had the Jones Act inhibited the cleanup, and the National Incident Command on July 6 reported that “in no case has any offer of assistance been declined because of the Jones Act or similar laws.” In addition, a U.S. Department of Transportation statement indicated, “To be absolutely clear ... the Jones Act has not hindered the cleanup effort.”

 

The Jones Act is a longstanding U.S. maritime law that mandates the use of American vessels and American workers in U.S. domestic maritime trade, such as the delivery of goods from one U.S. port to another. The Jones Act does not apply to, and does not constrain, skimming outside of three miles from shore, including near the well 50 miles from the U.S. coastline. The commission concluded that, when skimming near the shore was required, an expedited waiver process enabled foreign vessels to participate in the cleanup effort as needed.

 

In May 2010, President Obama announced the creation of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. He charged the Commission to determine the causes of the disaster, and to improve the country’s ability to respond to spills, and to recommend reforms to make offshore energy production safer. The report is the result of an intense six-month effort. It is available online at: http://www.oilspillcommission.gov/finalreport

 

The Maritime Cabotage Task Force was founded in 1995 to promote the U.S.-flag fleet engaged in domestic waterborne commerce. With more than 400 members, the MCTF is the largest coalition ever assembled to represent the domestic segment of the U.S. Merchant Marine. Nationwide, there are more than 39,000 vessels engaged in Jones Act commerce and they annually move more than 1 billion tons of cargo and 100 million passengers. The Jones Act has been broadly supported by every Congress and Administration since its passage in 1920 and is considered a key element in the nation’s defense capabilities.

 

Moreover, in May 2010, a highly credible study concluded that the Jones Act generates more than $100 billion in annual economic output for the U.S. while helping sustain nearly 500,000 family-wage jobs.


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