Speed Reads

Hurricane Maria

Trump cites shipping industry wishes in explaining why he hasn't waived the Jones Act for Puerto Rico

A group of congressional Democrats and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have asked the Trump administration to waive the Jones Act to speed up Puerto Rico's recovery from Hurricane Maria, arguing that the 1920 law — which requires all maritime traffic between U.S. ports to be on U.S.-built ships owned primarily by U.S. companies and staffed by a U.S. crew — is hindering relief efforts to the storm-damaged U.S. territory. The Homeland Security Department declined the request, but on Wednesday afternoon, President Trump said "we're thinking about" lifting the restrictions, as his administration had done after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma a few weeks ago. "But we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people ... who work in the shipping industry that don't want the Jones Act lifted."

Homeland Security Department officials said the department had determined that there are plenty of U.S.-flagged vessels available to carry goods to Puerto Rico, and that the Jones Act can't be waived for cost-saving reasons. The main shipping operators serving Puerto Rico — Crowley Maritime and TOTE Maritime — say they have delivered about 6,000 shipping containers to Puerto Rico since Saturday, mostly filled with relief supplies. "Adding foreign-flag capacity and taking out U.S. mariners who are doing this work would not help at all," Crowley senior vice president Michael Roberts told The Wall Street Journal.

President George W. Bush suspended the Jones Act, formally called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, and President Barack Obama did the same after 2012's superstorm Sandy.