gCaptain beat me to the punch on writing about the Jones Act as it relates to the oil spill. The Jones Act, actually Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 192o, has come under criticism for potentially curtailing the United State’s oil spill response.
In short, US Maritime shipping has the following requirements:
- US Owned
- US Flagged
- US Built
- Crewed by Americans
So, unless your vessel meets all of the above requirements, you are not able to ship cargo between US Ports. Looking to ship US-made BMWs from Charleston to New York by sea, then you need to ship on a Jones Act complaint vessel. And given that building a ship in the US is extremely expensive, your choices are limited.
Why does the Jones Act apply to clean up vessels?
It certainly does. These vessels are going to have to operate in waters that are under US control. They will call US ports, go to sea and return to the US without making a foreign voyage/ calling a foreign port. I would call that domestic activity
But the debate rages on about whether the Jones Act is negatively impacting the clean up. On June 10th we reported that the Flanders Today reported the Jones Act preventing Belgian companies from aiding.
Both Jan De Nul and DEME also own vessels that can suck up oil slicks at a depth of 500 feet, as well as vessels that can skim oil off the surface. The companies say that the fact that the Americans have not accepted their proposed assistance is down to two reasons – that the US authorities are reluctant to admit that somebody else has better equipment and the protection of the American market through the protectionist 1920 Jones Act, prohibiting foreign dredging companies from operating in US waters.
Fox News also asks why Obama won’t waive the Jones Act stating that it has indeed hampered the efforts in the Gulf.
But unlike his predecessor, President Obama has declined to suspend the law, even temporarily.
Obama’s decision has turned into a public relations headache for an administration already reeling from its oversight of the oil spill. European allies, longtime opponents of the Jones Act, have asserted they were turned away when making offers of assistance. The State Department acknowledges it has had 21 aid offers from 17 countries.
But wait…has the Jones Act actually prevented negavitely impacted our clean up?
Just this morning I read this story from The Maritime Executive which denies that the Jones Act is negatively impacting the cleanup.
Some have criticized the Jones Act, which requires the use of American vessels for transportation in domestic commerce, for hindering the Gulf clean-up. Not true, said the NIC and the Coast Guard.
“In no case has the Federal On Scene Coordinator (FOSC) or Unified Area Command declined to request assistance or accept offers of assistance of foreign vessels that meet an operational need because the Jones Act was implicated,” said a June 17 NIC Fact Sheet
The NIC Fact Sheet noted that foreign vessels from many nations are already working in the Gulf. The Jones Act only applies within three miles of shore. [Note: they might want to clarify that comment] Therefore, foreign skimmers, along with American skimmers, are already at work beyond three miles. The Deepwater Horizon spill is occurring 50 miles from shore, and the vast majority of oil is beyond 3 miles. – The Maritime Executive (Click to read the entire article)
From a local NPR/PBS affiliate
Retired Coast Guard Captain Dennis Bryant of Gainesville practiced maritime law for 15 years…Some lawmakers say they’ve heard the Jones Act is stopping foreign oil skimmers from helping with the oil spill cleanup. But Bryant says the law probably isn’t to blame. “The impediment, if there is one, has been that there hasn’t been a valid offer for a foreign response vessel,” he notes…”The amount of oil spill response vessels in the world is not that great.” Bryant also points out that, since the strictest provisions of the Jones Act only apply within 3 miles of the US coast, it’s easier for foreign ships to help with cleanup operations farther out in the Gulf, near the Deepwater Horizon well itself. In fact, the ship siphoning oil from Deepwater Horizon’s broken wellhead is a foreign-flagged ship; the Discoverer Enterprise was built in Spain and flies the Marshall Islands flag. Also, Bryant says the Jones Act waiver process has been fast-tracked like it was during Hurricane Katrina, so if any foreign ship wants to help closer to the shore, it could have a waiver within 48 hours.
Media matters has also went after Fox News for perpetuating this falsehood noting that the
National Incident Commander has repeatedly stated that foreign vessels are operating in the Gulf, that they have not yet “seen any need to waive the Jones Act,” and that they are prepared to process case-by-case waivers if needed.
Likewise White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said last week “that we have not had [a] problem” with the Jones Act. Indeed, the fact sheet available from the Deepwater Horizon Response site claims “Currently 15 foreign-flagged vessels are involved in the largest response to an oil spill in U.S. history.”