American Feeder Lines is seeking a temporary exemption of the Jones Act to allow foreign-built ships into U.S. domestic maritime service, as the company tries to attract investment to domestic marine highways.
AFL’s step is one of the most significant efforts to overcome one of the major obstacles facing the development of U.S. marine highways: a shortage of suitable U.S.-built ships.
The acquisition of foreign ships would give U.S. shipbuilders the time to build a marine highways fleet and allow operators to begin service. The company is negotiating with the Maritime Administration and seeking support in Congress for an exemption to the Jones Act, which requires vessels in domestic service to be built in the U.S.
The exemption would be contingent on the operator securing contracts for new vessels to be built in U.S. shipyards, to replace the foreign vessel as they are completed. All other Jones Act requirements would be unchanged.
AFL says using foreign-built ships on U.S. coastwise service could be what is needed to attract investment in the industry. Short-sea shipping — what Marad calls marine highways — is untested in the U.S. It is a well-established transportation mode in Europe and parts of Asia.
Advocates here say that moving cargo by water is environmentally friendly and could relieve congestion on highways. Finding investment capital has been nearly impossible.
AFL’s own business plan calls for a fleet of small container ships to provide feeder service between Atlantic ports. Its first vessel — a foreign-built container ship — operates between Boston; Portland, Maine; and Halifax.
The AFL spokesman said the exemption, requiring congressional approval, has the support of the maritime labor unions, and he is optimistic that a bill could pass before the end of the year.