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“To be clear – the Jones Act is not impeding relief efforts in Puerto Rico right now. It never did”

With these words, the American maritime unions told the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Marine Transportation on October 3 what thousands of American mariners sailing a “Steel Bridge” between the mainland US and Puerto Rico have known since Hurricane Maria devastated the island two weeks earlier.

Speaking on behalf of the MTD-affiliated Seafarers International Union and American Maritime Officers as well as the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association and Masters, Mates & Pilots, SIU Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman added, [The Jones Act] “is not forcing aid to be turned away, nor is it slowing down efforts to get relief supplies to the people who need them.

“The claim that the Jones Act is impeding relief efforts is a lie – and no matter how many times those bought-and-paid for academics and their cronies in the media repeat that lie, it remains a lie. The amount of fake news around the Jones Act has been staggering,” Schoeneman declared.

The subcommittee called the hearing a week after President Trump denied a Jones Act waiver, then was forced to reverse course two days later and authorized a 10-day suspension of the 1920 freight cabotage law.

In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Duncan Hunter (R-CA) stated, “Critics continue to assail the US-flag fleet and the Jones Act as an antiquated industry and law, unnecessary in today’s world. These critics promoted claims the law prohibited supplies from getting to Puerto Rico.

“However, as we know, that was false,” Hunter continued. “Supplies have been getting to the island and have been backlogged at the ports, due to the devastation of logistics on the island. Foreign vessels are also bringing fuel and supplies to the island from foreign ports; the Jones Act does not prohibit that from happening.”

The maritime unions reiterated that they have never and would not oppose a temporary waiver for humanitarian reasons, but requested that a full accounting be made on the impact of the current suspension.

US-flag ships started arriving at the Port of San Juan when it reopened for business on September 23. In a matter of days, all dock space was full with containers loaded with much-needed supplies. It took additional days before the boxes could begin rolling off the docks because of the severe damage to Puerto Rico’s transportation infrastructure.

Despite the obvious evidence that supplies were being delivered, critics of the Jones Act jumped on the fact that a waiver had not been issued. The opponents dug up many of the old, discredited claims that the Jones Act had harmed the island’s economy. Many in the media used such statements without verifying them. They did not even report the fact that foreign-flag vessels deliver approximately 60 percent of the goods used in Puerto Rico. During this debate in the media, one MSNBC/NBC reporter misinformed a national audience that the Jones Act required all food destined for the island must go through the United States before sailing to Puerto Rico.

In the midst of all this, US Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “The problem isn’t the Jones Act. The problem is that there was a hurricane. Logistical systems are destroyed. Trucks, highways and other transportation systems are gone.”

Graves went on to say, “Anyone [who] thinks this waiver just solved the problem is confused. We have a huge shipping industry on the Gulf Coast that needs the jobs and economic activity now to help economies recover from their disasters. You just took American jobs and sent them overseas.”

However, almost as if on cue, US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) with fellow Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced yet another bill to cripple the Jones Act – this one (S 1894) to fully exempt Puerto Rico from the law. The maritime unions already are rallying legislators from both parties to defeat the measure.