Jones Act Remains Vital


May 2017


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SIU President Michael Sacco discusses the latest views on how American’s freight cabotage law protects U.S. national, economic and homeland security


Look no further than the front page of this month’s LOG to see some of the continuing positive effects of the Jones Act. As reported there and elsewhere in this edition, three new SIU-contracted vessels recently were launched at shipyards on all three sea coasts.


There’s no way companies would make those kinds of investments in domestic American-flag shipping without the Jones Act – a law that has served our nation extremely well for nearly a century. Old salts probably know the essentials of America’s freight cabotage law, but for any newcomers, the Jones Act requires that cargo moving between domestic ports is carried aboard ships that are crewed, built, flagged and owned American.


One of the oddities about this law is that while it has always enjoyed strong bipartisan support, it also regularly comes under attack, normally by individuals and organizations with no regard for the U.S. Merchant Marine or for America’s security. Those attacks range from calling for outright elimination to chipping away at isolated components such as the U.S.-build requirement or the application of the law in Puerto Rico.


Fortunately, the facts are on our side. And those facts include that the Jones Act helps account for almost 500,000 American jobs. It helps maintain a pool of U.S. mariners who are available to sail on American military support ships in times of need. It pours billions of dollars per year into the domestic economy. It is nothing short of critical in helping our nation maintain its shipbuilding capability. In summary, the Jones Act is essential to America’s national, economic and homeland security.


It’s also worth noting that most other industrialized nations maintain cabotage laws. (Our brothers and sisters in Canada have been successfully fighting efforts to weaken that nation’s cabotage laws.) Basically, it’s just sound policy and good common sense. For us, cabotage is an investment in America.


Although the vessels shown on our front page this month are deep sea ships, we shouldn’t overlook the point that the Jones Act ensures that vessels plying America’s inland waterways are truly domestic. Crews are carefully screened before receiving their credentials, and vessel owners work with the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal law enforcement agencies.


Another way to look at it was illustrated earlier this year during the Maritime Trades Department executive board meeting. One of the guest speakers, Michael Hebert, is in charge of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Jones Act Division of Enforcement. He described the law as “critical” and added: “Without the Jones Act, we would have issues in our inland river systems with national security. Our national security is a layered approach…. There’s no way that we could enforce our national security laws without the Jones Act. We have 95,000 miles of coastline in the United States. When we look at the southern border, that’s 1,900 (miles), and we’re really concerned about the southern border. But we (also) need to be concerned about our coastline and our river systems. Without the Jones Act, we would be inundated with foreign-flag vessels and non-coastwise-qualified vessels doing business at our critical infrastructures. They would have unfettered access to our refineries and more, and that’s an issue to me. Along with the vessels, the foreign crew that are on these vessels….”


Those are wise words from someone outside the labor movement who is very well-informed on the subject, and they reflect even more reasons why the Jones Act is good for America.



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