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Thursday, July 23, 2015
Greece, Puerto Rico and the Jones Act
By Michael Hansen @ 9:28 PM :: 3202 Views :: Jones Act

by Michael Hansen, President, Hawaii Shippers Council, July 23, 2015

Capt. Max Hardberger wrote in his regular Workboat Magazine column International Waters a piece entitled “Greece, Puerto Rico and the Jones Act” in which he argues for nationwide repeal or modernization of Jones Act cabotage.

Capt. Hardberger supports U.S. Senator John S. McCain’s legislation which he mischaracterized as repealing the Jones Act in full; Sen McCain’s legislation actually proposes to eliminate just the domestic build requirement of the Jones Act.

Capt. Hardberger does not support more limited proposals that do not apply to the whole country. He criticizes the Hawaii Shippers Council (HSC)’s proposal which would only eliminate the domestic build requirement in the noncontiguous trades – Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Neither does he support a full exemption for Puerto Rico, which has been called for in the context of the Commonwealth’s financial crisis.

Key excerpts quote:

If you have read my previous blogs on the Jones Act, you know that my opinion (not necessarily WorkBoat’s) is contrary to most of you in the workboat industry. I want the act repealed or modernized.

The nation didn’t pay much attention when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently called for the repeal of the cabotage provisions of the Jones Act, and neither did his fellow senators.

Arguments for and against the Jones Act’s cabotage provisions have been hashed and rehashed, ad nauseum, so the only worthwhile discussion now is political. Sen. McCain, being from a landlocked state and therefore having no dog in the hunt, spoke from a sense of fairness and reason, not from political motives. And he’s right: these provisions were enacted during the protectionist, trade-unionist 1920s and 1930s, when social engineering took precedence over rationality. It is serendipitous for the Jones Act’s survival that Congress, like the nation, has been drifting left.

So when the Hawaii Shippers Council urged Congress not to repeal the law, but instead make a nonsensical exception to it, no one listened. When others have tried the same approach, they’ve met the same result. But now Puerto Rico, going down for the last time in a sea of debt, is blaming the Jones Act for its misfortunes, and in a nice bit of irony, Democratic operatives have taken up its cause. (One of them, on MSNBC, referred to it as “the 1817 Jones Act.”)

The truth is that Puerto Rico, like Greece, has been battening off the labor of others for decades, and like the Greeks, Puerto Ricans don’t want to suffer the consequences. Having worked in several Puerto Rican ports over the years, it’s no surprise to me that the territory is in trouble. Puerto Rico is more like Venezuela than the U.S. Inefficiency, corruption, work stoppages, and disregard for the standards of international shipping are the norm in Puerto Rican ports, not the exception. This isn’t to say that Puerto Rico isn’t being treated unfairly by the Jones Act, but no more so than, say, Houston or Seattle. Every U.S. port could benefit from its repeal, even if not to the same extent as Anchorage, Alaska, Honolulu or San Juan.

Thus, pleas to carve out exceptions, lacking any reasonable basis, are counter-productive.

The only real answer is a coordinated, unified, and well-reasoned effort to persuade Congress to repeal or modernize this relic from a bygone century.

LINK: Greece, Puerto Rico and the Jones Act



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