A new paper by the respected think tank Lexington Institute calls the Jones Act “an important barrier to terrorist infiltration of the homeland.” The late- March article was written by Daniel Gouré, Ph.D.
One of the pillars of the U.S.-flag maritime industry, the Jones Act requires that cargo moving between domestic ports be carried aboard vessels that are crewed, built, owned and flagged American. The nearly century-old law always has enjoyed strong bipartisan support but also regularly still comes under attack by foreign-flag shipowners and their allies.
Known as America’s freight cabotage law, the Jones Act helps maintain nearly 500,000 American jobs while pumping billions of dollars into the economy each year.
Gouré wrote in part, “The debate of enhancing U.S. border security has focused almost exclusively on illegal movement of people and drugs into the southern United States from Mexico. Yet, the southern border is actually the smallest at 1,989 miles. The U.S. border with Canada is almost three times longer at 5,525 miles.
“All of this country’s land borders are dwarfed by the 95,000 miles of national shoreline,” he continued. “This includes the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts as well as the Great Lakes separating the United States from Canada. Along this shoreline are many of America’s greatest cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, Savannah, Miami and Tampa. Virtually all of these are associated with ports through which pass millions of cargo containers and hundreds of thousands of passengers.”
He then pointed out that the U.S. “is a nation of rivers. A ship entering the homeland through a coastal port such as New Orleans will have access to the deep interior. The inland waterways of the United States encompass over 25,000 miles of navigable waters, including the Intracoastal Waterway, a 3,000-mile waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. This liquid highway touches most of America’s major eastern cities including Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans and Mobile. Inland and intracoastal waterways directly serve 38 states from the nation’s heartland to the Atlantic seaboard, Gulf Coast and Pacific Northwest.”
He explained that “a significant portion of the movement of ships in U.S. waters” is governed by the Jones Act, which is part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The law “was meant to pursue a number of national objectives,” Gouré noted. “The most obvious was to support a robust U.S. shipbuilding industry and merchant marine. In addition, Jones Act ships provided an important logistics support capability for the U.S. Navy.
“A less well-appreciated but ever more important service provided by the Jones Act is in the area of homeland security,” he continued. “Since 2011, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security along with domestic law enforcement agencies at both the state and federal levels are expending enormous amounts of manpower and resources to secure the nation’s ports and waterways. Foreign owned and operated ships routinely enter U.S. ports. But their movements and those of their crews are subject to a variety of controls and restrictions. For example, without valid passports, foreign sailors are restricted to their ships and the immediate port area.
“It is particularly important that those vessels and crews which routinely travel between U.S. ports and especially the inland waterways through America’s heartland pose no threat to the homeland,” he added. “It is for this reason that the higher standards with respect to ownership and manning requirements for Jones Act ships are so significant.”
Gouré concluded that the work involved in securing U.S. ports and foreign cargoes already is significantly challenging. He said it would make “no sense” and would increase “the burden facing domestic security agencies” if foreign-owned, foreign- crewed vessels were permitted to move freely on the nation’s rivers, lakes and waterways.
Crewing requirements stipulated by the Jones Act “go a long way to reducing the risk that terrorists could get on board or execute an attack on a U.S. target,” Gouré said. “In effect, there is a system of self-policing that reduces the requirement for law enforcement and homeland security organizations to expend time and effort to ensure that these vessels and crews are safe to traverse U.S. waters. Were the Jones Act not in existence, the Department of Homeland Security would be confronted by the difficult and very costly requirement of monitoring, regulating and overseeing foreign-controlled, foreign crewed vessels in coastal and internal U.S. waters.”
Based in Arlington, Virginia, the Lexington Institute’s stated goals are “to inform, educate, and shape the public debate of national priorities in those areas that are of surpassing importance to the future success of democracy, such as national security, education reform, tax reform, immigration and federal policy concerning science and technology. By promoting America’s ability to project power around the globe we not only defend the homeland of democracy, but also sustain the international stability in which other free-market democracies can thrive. The Lexington Institute believes in limiting the role of the federal government to those functions explicitly stated or implicitly defined by the Constitution. The Institute therefore actively opposes the unnecessary intrusion of the federal government into the commerce and culture of the nation, and strives to find nongovernmental, market-based solutions to public-policy challenges. We believe a dynamic private sector is the greatest engine for social progress and economic prosperity.”