President’s Column - ‘Jones Act an Indispensable Asset’

 

March 2018

 

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SIU President Michael Sacco says America’s freight cabotage law is more important than ever

 

Facts have a way of prevailing, and with that in mind I’m encouraged to see a recent shift in media coverage and chatter about the Jones Act. As many Seafarers know, this vital law took an unfair beating last year after Hurricane Maria. But, as has been said many times, the truth has a way of coming out. And people seem to be finally catching on to the truth about America’s freight cabotage law.


That’s not to say we won’t still see a baseless editorial attack or a flat-out erroneous quote, but from the printed page to TV news, and from social media to Capitol Hill, I have seen and been informed about fairer coverage and increased accuracy.

 

If you somehow missed it, critics have wrongly claimed (going back to September) that the Jones Act hampered relief efforts in Puerto Rico, even though nothing could be further from the truth. They used their own flawed accusations as a basis to call for weakening or eliminating a law that has protected the United States and its territories for nearly a century. It did not matter that the backdrop for their stories showed stacks and stacks of containers delivered to the San Juan docks by U.S.-flag vessels.

 

Jones Act ships were on the scene in Puerto Rico within hours after the first port reopened, and Jones Act vessels have continued delivering vital cargoes ever since. Because of damaged roads and numerous other infrastructure problems, much of the waterborne cargo initially stayed in the ports, but that had nothing to do with any maritime law.


The bottom line is that almost every statement that was put forth as justification to weaken or kill the Jones Act was wrong. Foreign-flag ships already carry around two-thirds of the cargo that arrives on the island. Groceries in Puerto Rico are substantially cheaper than in the U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, both non-Jones Act territories. Shipping rates from the mainland to Puerto Rico compare favorably with rates to other islands where the Jones Act doesn’t apply (and which are served by foreign-flag ships). Easily verifiable
information on the web also shows that, on average, consumer prices in Puerto Rico are lower than in Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando. Some people still insist on blaming the Jones Act for all of Puerto Rico’s problems, but whether that’s a gigantic stretch or a red herring or genuine misunderstanding, it’s still completely false.

 

Check out our Jones Act coverage elsewhere in this issue, and be sure to read about Operation Agua, too. That’s a great project, led by our sisters and brothers from the American Federation of Teachers. The SIU is proud to be on board with the outreach.

 

Headed to the Hill

This month, we are participating in the annual Maritime Congressional Sail-In. The all-day mission on Capitol Hill has become a staple for representatives from every segment of the American maritime industry, and I think its importance grows with each passing year.

 

I’m grateful that the maritime industry in general and the SIU in particular can count many friends on both sides of the aisle, but between the regular turnover in Congress and the ongoing attacks on our industry, we can never let up when it comes to promoting the U.S. Merchant Marine. You all know we work in a heavily regulated industry, and that’s precisely why we never stop speaking up for Seafarers and for the laws and programs that keep Old Glory flying on the rivers, coasts and high seas. We’ll be going to bat for mariners, for the Jones Act and cargo preference, for the Maritime Security Program and the Ex-Im Bank and more. America’s national, economic and homeland security depend on us, and that’s a message we’re proud to deliver here in Washington, just as you do back in your hometowns.

 

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