Critics say the Jones Act costs American jobs by encouraging residents in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii to buy foreign-made goods that are shipped on foreign flagged vessels, rather than goods made in America. The Department of Homeland Security hasn't waived the act for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last week.
Maria, the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in almost 90 years, caused widespread flooding and damage to homes and infrastructure. Greg Moore, a spokesman for the department's Customs and Border Protection agency, noted in a statement that United States ships had "sufficient capacity" to move supplies to Puerto Rico. "The infrastructure was in a bad shape as you know in Puerto Rico before the storm, and now in many cases, it has no infrastructure, so it's, you're really starting from nearly scratch", the CNN quoted him, as saying. And you know, we've gotten A-pluses on Texas and on Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico.
Michael Roberts, senior vice president and general counsel at Crowley, which benefits from Jones Act protections, said there is "a very steady pipeline of relief goods that is in process now and adding foreign-flag capacity and taking out USA mariners who are doing this work would not help at all". "Doing that at a time when many US mariners in this region have had their homes damaged, their lives uprooted and now they need to work, to take that away is not something you want to do".
The Jones Act also hampered clean-up efforts after the BP oil spill disaster in 2010. The airport was filled with law enforcement personnel from the Department of Homeland Security on a recent visit, he said.
Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent and was born in the Bronx, has already donated $1 million to relief efforts in Puerto Rico. "My letter requested a one-year exemption to the Jones Act to help stimulate economic activity and alleviate hardship on the Island by reducing the cost of basic goods".
Separately, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, sent a similar letter to Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke on Tuesday urging that the law be waived and arguing that it should ultimately be repealed. "This includes ensuring any and all maritime assets can access the island to deliver aid, regardless of their Jones Act status".
USA -based shipping firms also insist that the issue isn't the number of ships available but the ability to unload cargo in Puerto Rico and transport it from ports to other areas. Its weakened economy is overly dependent on imports; for example, they account for more than 80% of its food supplies.
"It's pretty ugly out there", he said. Furthermore, there is lack of fuel on the island and so there are a limited number of trucks available to move the goods around. A similar law called the Passenger Vessel Act was passed in 1886 and prevented foreign built and owned ships from ferrying passengers from one USA port to another.
But critics of the Jones Act say that vessel availability isn't the issue. Do something about our people in need in #PuertoRico.
Senior DHS officials said Wednesday that the department has not received any formal requests to waive the Jones Act, although they acknowledged receiving the request from the group of House lawmakers.