President’s Column – ‘Jones Act an Indispensable Asset’
March 1, 2018
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SIU President Michael Saccosays America’s freight cabotage law is more important than ever
Facts have a way of prevailing, and with that in mind I’m encouraged to see a recent shift in media coverage and chatter about the Jones Act. As many Seafarers know, this vital law took an unfair beating last year after Hurricane Maria. But, as has been said manytimes, the truth has a way of coming out. And people seem to be finally catching on to the truth about America’s freight cabotage law.
That’s not to say we won’t still see a baseless editorial attack ora flat-out erroneous quote, but from the printedpage to TV news, and from social media to CapitolHill, I have seen and been informed aboutfairer coverage and increased accuracy.
If you somehow missed it, critics havewrongly claimed (going back to September) thatthe Jones Act hampered relief efforts in PuertoRico, even though nothing could be further fromthe truth. They used their own flawed accusationsas a basis to call for weakening or eliminatinga law that has protected the United Statesand its territories for nearly a century. It did notmatter that the backdrop for their stories showedstacks and stacks of containers delivered to theSan Juan docks by U.S.-flag vessels.
Jones Act ships were on the scene in Puerto Rico within hoursafter the first port reopened, and Jones Act vessels have continueddelivering vital cargoes ever since. Because of damaged roads andnumerous other infrastructure problems, much of the waterbornecargo initially stayed in the ports, but that had nothing to do with any maritime law.
The bottom line is that almost every statement that was put forth asjustification to weaken or kill the Jones Act was wrong. Foreign-flagships already carry around two-thirds of the cargo that arrives on theisland. Groceries in Puerto Rico are substantially cheaper than in theU.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, both non-Jones Actterritories. Shipping rates from the mainland to Puerto Rico comparefavorably with rates to other islands where the Jones Act doesn’tapply (and which are served by foreign-flag ships). Easily verifiable information on the web also shows that, on average, consumer pricesin Puerto Rico are lower than in Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando.Some people still insist on blaming the Jones Act for all of PuertoRico’s problems, but whether that’s a gigantic stretch or a red herringor genuine misunderstanding, it’s still completely false.
Check out our Jones Act coverage elsewhere in this issue, and besure to read about Operation Agua, too. That’s a great project, led byour sisters and brothers from the American Federation of Teachers. The SIU is proud to be on board with the outreach.
Headed to the Hill
This month, we are participating in the annual Maritime CongressionalSail-In. The all-day mission on Capitol Hill has become a staplefor representatives from every segment of the American maritime industry,and I think its importance grows with each passing year.
I’m grateful that the maritime industry in general and the SIUin particular can count many friends on both sides of the aisle, butbetween the regular turnover in Congress and the ongoing attackson our industry, we can never let up when it comes to promoting theU.S. Merchant Marine. You all know we work in a heavily regulatedindustry, and that’s precisely why we never stop speaking up forSeafarers and for the laws and programs that keep Old Glory flying on the rivers, coasts and high seas. We’ll be going to bat for mariners,for the Jones Act and cargo preference, for the Maritime SecurityProgram and the Ex-Im Bank and more. America’s national,economic and homeland security depend on us, and that’s a message we’re proud to deliver here in Washington, just as you do back in your hometowns.