National conservative advocates for Jones Act on national security basis
by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council, July 11, 2017
The putative conservative political blog RedState published on July 10, 2017, an opinion-editorial, “Freedom through commerce: how a robust domestic shipping industry is critical to defend America,” advocating in support of the Jones Act on the basis of national security.
The op-ed was written by George C. Landrith, President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank founded in 1995 by the late U.S. Senator Malcolm Wallop (R-WY). Frontiers mission is to promote the principles of individual freedom, peace through strength, limited government, free enterprise and free markets.
In his op-ed, Landrith addresses the issue of sealift, which refers to the ocean shipping capacity available for the transport of matériel to support overseas U.S. military operations. He states this is a critical component of national security provided by the Jones Act. However, his arguments are largely based on factually inaccurate information and do not corroborate his conclusion.
In fact, today, the Jones Act (specifically Section 21 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920) has very little to do with sealift, which is largely involved with the carriage of matériel in foreign trade of the U.S. That is, sealift is waterborne transportation between domestic points within the U.S. and foreign overseas military theaters and areas of operation.
The Jones Act is a domestic shipping laws that regulates certain aspects of the carriage of merchandise between domestic points (i.e., points embraced by the coastwise laws of the U.S.). In particular, the Jones Act requires that the transportation by water between domestic points must be accomplished by vessels that are U.S.-built U.S.-flag, U.S.-manned, U.S.-owned and U.S.-managed.
The primary component of the current sealift capacity is provided by the privately-owned seagoing ships of the U.S. flag foreign (or, international) trade fleet that stood at 83 ships as of June 1, 2017. All these ships are foreign-built and approximately half are foreign-owned through specialized U.S. trusts. None of these ships are Jones Act eligible for domestic transportation. Sixty of these ships are eligible for Military Security Program ()MSP) operating subsidy payments of U.S. $5.0 million per ship annually granted to owners who agree to make their ships available for sealift as needed.
In addition, the U.S. Military Sealift Command (MSC) charters foreign flag privately-owned merchant ships from the U.S. controlled foreign shipping fleet (i.e., U.S. owned foreign flag ships) and from allied ship owners (collectively known as the NATO-owned and controlled merchant fleet). MSC also operates the government-owned merchant ships of the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) which stood at 99 ships as of May 31, 2017.
Landrith also makes inaccurate statements.
He states, “A key feature of the Jones Act allows foreign vessels to make deliveries at only one U.S. port, requiring them to leave for other nations before they may return. Instead, only American vessels with American crews can handle shipments stopping at multiple U.S. ports.”
This is flatly untrue. In the first instance it wrongly characterizes the Jones Act. Furthermore, foreign flag ships compliant with all U.S. regulatory requirements including the U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP) are allowed and do routinely call at multiple U.S. ports on the same voyage. Those foreign flag ships are allowed to discharge inbound foreign cargo and load outbound export cargo, but are prohibited by the Jones Act from transporting cargo from one U.S. port to another.
He further states, “Foreign vessels carrying a hodgepodge of crewmen from other countries cannot simply sail up the Mississippi or other waterways into America’s heartland.” This again is not true. Foreign flag ships with foreign crewmembers on board routinely navigate the lower reaches of the Mississippi and other large U.S. rivers and the Saint Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes. CBP inspects and controls the activities of foreign flag ships and their foreign crewmembers on board while in U.S. waters.
To project power and protect America the U.S. military requires a robust American sealift capability. Transporting materials and weaponry over across the high seas is a key component of America’s ability to protect its interests around the globe yet it is often overlooked, misunderstood and underappreciated.
Yet some in Congress and some policy advocates . . . . . advocate leaving our ability to supply our troops to chance by repealing or substantially changing “The Merchant Marine Act of 1920.” Today commonly referred to as the Jones Act, this law was passed after World War I so as to ensure that America’s ability to supply its troops in future conflicts would never again be in question.
A key feature of the Jones Act allows foreign vessels to make deliveries at only one U.S. port, requiring them to leave for other nations before they may return. Instead, only American vessels with American crews can handle shipments stopping at multiple U.S. ports. Consequently this requirement helps ensure America has a viable shipping industry and a capable American Merchant Marine to support America’s military.
Notably, the Jones Act also protects the American homeland. Foreign vessels carrying a hodgepodge of crewmen from other countries cannot simply sail up the Mississippi or other waterways into America’s heartland.
Some argue the Jones Act is outdated because it is almost 100 years old.
The Jones Act works and it makes sense. History proves it.
Imagine sending America’s high tech weapons half way around the world on a foreign owned and crewed ship. For weeks, foreign agents would have access to our highest technology.
Perhaps the most senseless reasoning for eliminating the Jones Act is that doing so would require the DOD to build, maintain and man its own ships for military sea lift. The cost to replicate the entire shipping network the Jones Act provides to our military when needed — the actual ships, logistics capabilities, global reach, manpower, etc. — is $65 billion. That’s $65 billion that wouldn’t go to our existing national security needs.
The bottom line is clear. History and today’s generals and admirals all make the same point: America needs the Jones Act. It supports our military. It aids homeland security. It promotes freedom through commerce. That’s all good for America!