America’s freight cabotage law made headlines in early May, following a cyberattack that disrupted fuel movement in parts of the United States for about a week.
A maritime expert posted an editorial explaining how the Colonial Pipeline saga reinforced the importance of the Jones Act to U.S. national, economic and homeland security. The 101-year-old law helps maintain approximately 653,000 U.S. jobs, including shipboard and shipyard positions. It contributes billions of dollars to the economy each year.
Colonial Pipeline, a privately held business, provides nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel, including gasoline, diesel, home heating oil and more. The company fell victim to a ransomware attack May 7; it resumed service May 12.
While not central to most of the incident’s coverage, the Jones Act received attention because of waiver requests ostensibly submitted to help alleviate the crisis. Ultimately, the White House granted only two such waivers – and only one of those was used.
The SIU posted a statement that reads in part, “The SIU continues to fully support the Jones Act, as we’ve done without exception since our founding in 1938. At the same time, we have never objected to waiving the Jones Act if doing so is a truly necessary response to national emergencies. Any waiver must not come at the expense of American jobs.
“One point that shouldn’t be overlooked as the Jones Act appears in current headlines is that this law has successfully supported America’s national, economic and homeland security for more than a century. It’s an indispensable foundation that helps maintain a pool of well-trained, reliable, U.S.-citizen mariners, as well as a viable shipbuilding capability along with the vessels themselves.
“Finally, the SIU supports a close examination by Congress regarding whether there has been any gaming of the system for crisis arbitrage that enriches foreign-flag interests.”
Others also weighed in, including Navy League of the United States CEO Mike Stevens. He wrote, “The disruption of the Colonial Pipeline was a devastating reminder of America’s vulnerabilities in an age of rapidly evolving threats. But while this should have been a moment for unification around national security priorities, some saw this crisis as an opportunity to propagate misguided and inaccurate attacks on the Jones Act.
“The Jones Act serves as the bedrock of American maritime law, ensuring that goods transported between U.S. ports are carried via U.S.-flag ships,” Stevens continued. “The national security implications of this law are impossible to overstate. Ever wonder why you don’t see near peer competitor foreign-flagged ships sailing up the Mississippi or Hudson rivers? It is thanks to the Jones Act.”
Stevens further pointed out that the law “ensures a strong maritime fleet manned by the U.S. Merchant Marine is ready and willing to answer the call in times of emergency. When the world is at peace, it is often forgotten that the U.S.-flag fleet and U.S. Merchant Marine are essential to American war efforts as they are the ones that transport the equipment, fuel, food, troops and ammunition to active conflict zones around the world. During peacetime, it is easy to forget how vital these vessels are to our military readiness. Let’s not make that mistake again by weakening the Jones Act and depleting our flag fleet.”
Additionally, he reminded readers that the U.S. is far from alone in maintaining regulations that help support a domestic fleet and crews.
“Our competitors around the world see the value in such cabotage laws, which is why they have their own,” Stevens said. “According to a report published by Seafarers Rights International, 80% of the world’s coastlines of United Nations Maritime States are governed by national cabotage laws.”
The coalition American Maritime Partnership (AMP), to which the SIU is affiliated, issued a statement that read in part, “Any waiver of U.S. law, including the Jones Act, should be done with precision and demand transparency and accountability of those who seek to benefit from such waiver. The Jones Act strengthens our industrial base and readiness, supports U.S. jobs and infrastructure, and protects homeland and national security. It should not be waived unless, and only to the extent that, a waiver would respond to an urgent national security need that cannot reasonably be met with American ships. The American Maritime Partnership does not object to the targeted approach of the Administration, but strenuously encourages all policymakers to hold accountable those who seek to benefit from any waiver to avoid undermining American jobs and consumers.”