Ever tried to book back-to-back cruises and the cruise company says you can’t book it because it invokes the Jones Act? The Jones Act is a 100-year-old regulatory relic instituted during the Wilson administration to protect our maritime industry.
Actually the Jones Act applies to the movement of cargo and goods but is often blamed by the cruise companies when actually it is the Passenger Vessel Services Act, (PVSA), 46 U.S.C. § 55103 (b), that places the restrictions on the movement of people. Maybe the Jones Act is easier to say? It is this Passenger Vessel Services Act that prohibits commercial vessels such as cruise ships from allowing passengers to board at one U.S. port and debark at another U.S. port.The short description for both says that you cannot transport cargo or passengers between two American ports unless you use ships built in American shipyards, flagged as an American ship and crewed by U.S. citizens. The problem for the cruise industry is America doesn’t build many cruise ships any more, it is expensive to flag ships in the U.S. and even more difficult to staff ships with U.S. citizens.
While it is a nuisance for the cruise industry it is a disaster for American business and our economy. As of 2016 there are less than one hundred tankers in the world that meet the Jones Act requirements. Because of this it is cheaper to ship U.S. oil to Europe from Texas than to refineries in New Jersey. What that means is our oil companies import more expensive oil while at the same time we export our oil. While complicated, the Jones Act is one of the things standing in the way of our energy distribution. One example is that several times more oil moves throughout the United States by train than using energy efficient ocean tankers.
One of the more insane things that happened as a result of the Jones Act occurred during the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Norway dispatched three specialized oil clean-up ships to help with the disaster but the U.S. government wouldn’t allow them to help because of the Jones Act so they returned to Norway. The Trump administration actually temporarily suspended the Jones Act twice. Once to help move oil out of Texas after major hurricanes and to speed up aid to Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane there.
There have been a number of locations where the cruise industry has wanted to serve the American traveler by embarking in one port and disembarking in another. Hawaii is one of those locations, providing inter-island cruises as well as cruises originating on the West Coast. New England cruises and Alaska are two other cruise destinations that would benefit by not having complications of these acts. In the case of Alaska there are a number of popular week-long itineraries that go one way, but because of the Jones Act they depart out of Vancouver instead of the U.S. port of Seattle. Recently we wanted to take the last Alaska cruise of the year from Seattle and stay on for a cruise from Vancouver to Hawaii, but because we would embark in Seattle and disembark in Honolulu the Jones Act prevented it.
If you are a cruiser maybe it’s time you suggest to your congressman that the Jones Act has outlived its usefulness. Even if cruising isn’t your thing you should still consider contacting your congressman. The acts cost you money at the gas pump by adding one or two billion dollars to fuel transportation costs each year and also prevents economical use of LNG in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam. Puerto Rico is the most negatively impacted by a number of elements in the acts. There are still a number lobbies that fight to keep these acts from being repealed and that includes labor unions, like the long shoremen and law firms that work injuries at sea cases. It has been suggested a number of times that the act could be eliminated for our island territories at least and new laws could be passed designed to cover American labor impacted by the health issues involved. Unfortunately even though there are almost no union jobs being protected by the acts it seems that special interest lobbies still take priority in Congress over the best interests of an uninformed public.