Sen. John McCain introduced legislation to “fully repeal” the Jones Act, which he said is preventing non-U.S.-flag vessels from helping clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The Arizona Republican said the 1920 law, which restricts domestic waterborne transportation to U.S.-flag, U.S.-owned ships crewed, built and owned by Americans, “hinders free trade and favors labor unions over consumers.”
McCain said the law restricts shipping and raises costs to consumers in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Guam. He cited a 1999 U.S. International Trade Commission Study that suggested Jones Act repeal would cut shipping costs in those markets by 22 percent.
He criticized the Obama administration for failing to temporarily waive the Jones Act to allow foreign-flag vessels to help with the cleanup from the BP rig explosion in the Gulf.
“Within a week of the explosion, 13 countries, including several European nations, offered assistance from vessels and crews with experience in removing oil spill debris, and as of June 21, the State Department has acknowledged that overall, ‘it has had 21 aid offers from 17 countries.’ However, due to the Jones Act, these vessels are not permitted in U.S. waters,” McCain said.
The Maritime Cabotage Task Force, a lobbying group representing Jones Act carriers, shipyards and dredgers, quoted the National Incident Command as saying that “no waivers of the Jones Act … have been required, because none of the foreign vessels currently operating as part of the BP Deepwater Horizon response has required such a waiver.”
The group said the State Department reported that offers from Mexican skimmers, Norwegian skimming systems and other assets from Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, have been accepted for work in international waters beyond three miles from shore. The cabotage task force said that if foreign-flag vessels are needed for cleanup within domestic waters, it would not oppose waivers to the Jones Act.
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