As the lengthy process of rebuilding Puerto Rico continues, the SIU late last year teamed up with several other organizations for a long-range project that delivers portable water purifiers to residents of the territory.
Named Operation Agua and spearheaded by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the endeavor got off to a great start. By early December, more than $1.2 million in donations had been raised. (Visit operationagua.com for more information and an opportunity to contribute.)
Overall, the program’s goal is to purchase and distribute 100,000 individual water filtration systems for households and classrooms, and 50 large-capacity clean-water devices to a network of nonprofit organizations, union offices, schools and other community-based groups to provide stable and reliable sources of safe water. Several thousand of the individual systems had been handed out as of early last month, addressing one of the most vital and ongoing needs on the island in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Joining the AFT in this mission are the SIU, Seafarers-contracted Tote Maritime, AFSCME, Operation Blessing International, and the Hispanic Federation. (The AFT’s affiliate in Puerto Rico represents 40,000 active and retired educators.)
SIU Port Agent Amancio Crespo spoke during an Operation Agua press conference in Puerto Rico a few days before Thanksgiving. He described the mission as a “lifesaving project” and thanked the AFT for starting it.
“And I also thank our other partners in Operation Agua,” Crespo continued. “We’re proud to stand beside all of you, shoulder to shoulder, as we push forward under very challenging circumstances.”
After briefly describing the SIU and its members, Crespo added, “We’re not here today for a referendum on the Jones Act, but I would be remiss in not mentioning that Jones Act ships – prominently including ones operated by Tote Maritime, one of our Operation Agua partners – have been here since the very first days of the recovery. They’ve delivered life-saving cargoes and have provided shelter, too. Those are union-crewed, American-flagged vessels that have collectively delivered more than 36,000 containers with millions of pounds of commercial and relief cargo to Puerto Rico just since the hurricane hit. And those cargoes have included the water filters on display here today.”
The press conference happened Nov. 21 – two days after a demonstration in the nation’s capital that aimed to call attention to ongoing needs in the Puerto Rico recovery. Parts of the rally in Washington, D.C., also included misguided attacks on the Jones Act, America’s freight cabotage law.
Ahead of the rally, the coalition American Maritime Partnership (AMP) (to which the SIU is affiliated), issued a statement that read in part: “While the American maritime industry was delivering cargo to the docks of Puerto Rico with relief supplies within hours of the hurricane passing, familiar opponents worked to fan debunked myths about our industry and the Jones Act. The fact remains the Jones Act does not add costs to Puerto Rico; it provides stability, jobs and reliable transportation of relief and recovery items to our families and neighbors in Puerto Rico. We support those who march for the well-being of Puerto Rico, as we have been working for the same cause since the storm, but we need to march for what will help, not hurt, the island. First understand the facts before the march.”
AMP went on to detail how any foreign vessel can call on Puerto Rico, and again debunked claims that the Jones Act somehow increases the cost of goods on the island.
“Over the last decade, a parade of politicians and ‘experts’ have attempted to estimate the so- called ‘cost’ of the Jones Act in Puerto Rico,” the coalition noted. “Because the estimates have been wildly contradictory, in 2012, Puerto Rico Delegate Pierluisi asked the GAO to determine the true ‘cost.’ The GAO studied the issue for more than a year and debunked the previous estimates. First, the GAO said there are far too many factors that impact the price of a consumer good to determine the supposed cost related to shipping, much less the Jones Act. Second, the GAO said, one could not truly estimate the cost unless one knew which American laws would be applied to foreign ships if they were allowed to enter the domestic trades, which would certainly increase the cost of foreign shipping.”
Moreover, according to figures from what is believed to be the world’s largest database of user-contributed statistics about cities and countries worldwide, Puerto Rico receives Jones Act shipping service that is cheaper, more regular and more reliable than foreign shipping rates and service to the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Consumer prices are far lower in Puerto Rico than in the USVI; in fact, in most cases, they’re also higher on the U.S. mainland than in Puerto Rico.
In addition to working as part of Operation Agua, the SIU continues to collect and help transport donations on the mainland both for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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