Pasha Hawaii is pulling a 37-year-old ship out of layup to move 800 containers filled with bottled water for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, where political arguments over Jones Act’s US-flag shipping requirements have flared since Hurricane Maria.
The Horizon Spirit will be loaded at Long Beach and will transit the Panama Canal en route to Puerto Rico by the end of October. The vessel will be available for additional Puerto Rico relief service afterward, Pasha said.
The carrier said it is partnering with Lipsey Mountain Spring Water, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA's) prime contractor of bottled water, to deliver more than 15 million bottles of water to the island.
The Horizon Spirit is one of several old steam-powered vessels that Pasha acquired when it took over Horizon Lines’ US West Coast-Hawaii service after Horizon was broken up at the end of 2015. Pasha is building two liquefied natural gas–powered ships to replace its older vessels.
Puerto Rico’s humanitarian crisis after Maria sparked renewed criticism of the Jones Act, the 1920 cabotage law that requires US domestic shipments to move in US-flag vessels built, owned, and crewed by US citizens.
President Donald Trump granted a temporary waiver of the law, allowing non-US-flag ships to carry cargo between the US mainland and Puerto Rico, but the waiver was allowed to expire after 10 days. The Jones Act does not prohibit non-US-flag ships from serving US ports from other countries.
Jones Act critics claimed US-flag restrictions on domestic shipments were delaying delivery of aid. The act’s supporters said Jones Act carriers Crowley Maritime, TOTE, and Trailer Bridge began funneling cargo to San Juan as soon as the port was reopened. They said delivery problems were due to disrupted inland distribution, not vessel supply, and that cargo delivered by Jones Act ships was piling up at the Port of San Juan.
Crowley has added six vessels, and Trailer Bridge has deployed an additional barge to its Jacksonville-San Juan service. Crowley said that through last week it had delivered more than 6,500 loads of FEMA and commercial cargo from 20 vessels, and that it expected nine vessels carrying 2,500 to 3,000 loads to arrive in Puerto Rico this week.
Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Mike Lee of Utah have introduced a bill to repeal the Jones Act, but the effort faces long odds. Republicans and Democrats at a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing Oct. 3 expressed unanimous support of the law.
Industry representatives told the subcommittee that loosening the Jones Act would undermine US shipbuilders and would not help Puerto Rico because international carriers would probably serve the island’s small trade by transshipment and would ignore the money-losing northbound backhaul that US-flag lines now serve.