US Waives Jones Act

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, otherwise known as the Jones Act, is the foundation for protectionist cabotage laws that govern shipping in the United States. The Jones Act states, that no merchandise shall be transported between points in the US in any vessel other than a vessel built in the US, owned by US citizens. Waiving Jones Act requires meeting a high standard, namely, that a waiver is necessary to the national defense. Today, the US waives Jones Act to ensure enough fuel reaches emergency responders during Hurricane Irma.

Today, acting secretary Elaine Duke of the Department of Homeland Security approved a waiver of the federal Jones Act which will allow gasoline and other refined products to move between U.S. ports on foreign-flagged vessels until September 15. This waiver will ensure that over the next week, all options are available to distribute fuel to states and territories impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, both historic storms, according to a statement from the department.

During a White House press briefing Friday afternoon, White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said:

We are worried about the fuel shortages. We are bringing in as much supply of refined fuel as possible, and we’ve waived a particular statute that allows for foreign-flagged vessels to help in that effort. So, as many tanker ships as possible are now being brought to bear on the effort to bring in as much fuel as possible to help Floridians regardless of their flag vessel status.

Requests for waivers of the Act and its provisions are reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security on a case-by-case basis, and can only be granted based on interest of national defense. When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita battered the U.S. coast in 2005, President George W. Bush temporarily waived the coastwise laws for foreign vessels carrying oil and natural gas, which added flexibility to the early recovery efforts to distribute oil and gasoline to where it’s needed. The Secretary of Homeland Security issued a temporary conditional waiver of the Jones Act to immediately allow additional oil tankers coming from the Gulf of Mexico to enter Northeastern ports, to provide additional fuel resources to the region, following widespread fuel shortages caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.