Puerto Rico: Trump lifts shipping ban for storm-hit island

Mandel Ngan  Agence France-Presse

Mandel Ngan Agence France-Presse

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced the waiver of Jones Act, which is meant to expedite the delivery of needed relief supplies to Puerto Rico, in a tweet on Thursday morning.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke told reporters outside the White House Thursday that food, water and fuel shortages on the US island are "the fault of the hurricane" and that "the relief effort is under control".

The decision to forgo the act came after critics blasted Washington for not immediately lifting the obscure and almost 100-year-old law that requires all goods ferried between USA ports to be carried on ships built, owned and operated by Americans.

Also complicating clean-up on the island is its precarious economy, damaged by overspending and teetering near bankruptcy - and some say due in part to the Jones Act, which makes it more expensive for Puerto Rico to receive USA products. "That does not get rebuilt in days".

"I am very concerned by the Department's decision not to waive the Jones Act for current relief efforts in Puerto Rico, which is facing a worsening humanitarian crisis following Hurricane Maria", McCain wrote to acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke this week. Food and water are in short supply.

Between calls to boycott the National Football League and to support repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Trump's few tweets and retweets about the disaster in Puerto Rico have been vague and largely self-congratulatory. That will help Puerto Rico recover after being walloped by Hurricane Maria.

A week on from the disaster, at least 97 per cent of the island is believed to still be without power and around half of residents do not have running water.

The Jones Act was waived earlier this month to provide relief assistance prior to Hurricane Irma's landfall, DHS said.

The presenter of the video said the hospital she was in had "no water, no cash", and added that "the hospital is completely full with no generators, so they have open windows".

The Trump administration waived the act after recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which battered Florida and Texas.

The department said then that there were sufficient ships available to meet the need.

But shipping companiesalready have aid and supplies either waiting at the port to be delivered - or held up at ports on the U.S. mainland.

"It is meant to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms", Duke said.

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