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Enforce the Jones Act and Stop Letting Foreign Vessels Work in the Gulf

You would think that in these days and times when Americans are suffering with economic difficulties and Government is spending money faster than they can print it, that the U.S. Government would be doing everything it could do to keep jobs for its citizens from letting jobs fly out the door to foreign concerns. You would think that, if there were jobs right here in the United States, the Government would at least try to keep those jobs from going to foreigners.

You would think... ... ..

Unfortunately, that is not the case. As we speak, there are over thirty (30) foreign flagged, foreign owned and foreign manned vessels working every day in the Gulf of Mexico for U.S. companies. This is not "out-sourcing" jobs... ..this, my friends, is "in-sourcing" jobs and it is ridiculous and needs to stop.

The issue started with the passage of the Shipping Act of 1916. The Shipping Act provided, among other things, that only citizens of the United States, or companies in which a controlling interest was held by a citizen of the United States, could own a U.S. vessel. Subsequently, Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which was arguably the nation's most important cabotage law. At the time the Merchant Marine Act was passed into law, the Act represented both the commitment of the United States to maintaining a strong and viable merchant fleet for commerce and defense, and its awareness that its merchant fleet could not profitably operate in unregulated competition. The opening paragraph of the act, entitled "Purpose and Policy of the United States," summarized this commitment:

It is necessary for the national defense and for the proper growth of its foreign and domestic commerce that the United States shall have a merchant marine of the best equipped and most suitable types of vessels sufficient to carry the greater portion of its commerce and serve as a naval auxiliary in time of war or national emergency, ultimately to be owned and operated privately by citizens of the United States; and it is the declared policy of the United States to do whatever may be necessary to develop and encourage the maintenance of such a merchant marine.

The Merchant Marine Act provided many measures to protect and foster the U.S. Merchant Marine. Most important, the act restricted the transport of goods from points within the United States to vessels constructed and registered in the United States and owned by U.S. citizens or companies. In this regard, the act further provided that any vessel lawfully engaging in the coastwise "Jones Act" trade must never have been foreign-owned at any time and never registered under a foreign flag or rebuilt abroad.

The U.S. Government and the United States Coast Guard [USCG] faithfully followed this time honored tradition of enforcing the mandate of the Jones Act. However, when Hurricanes Katrina and then Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, there was a need for vessels and that need was filled by foreign made, foreign flagged and foreign manned vessels. However, that void of U.S. vessels and U.S. crews has long since come and gone and the number of foreign flagged and foreign manned vessels has only continued to grow. The way they got around the Jones Act was that USCG, under CFR Title 33 Part 141, issued an "exception" to them from the stringent rule of the Jones Act.

This has caused U.S. seamen to be unemployed and allowing foreign citizens to take their jobs right in our back yard! We are in the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, and this practice MUST BE stopped immediately. There are thousands of qualified U.S. seamen that are more than capable to do the job but cannot get the jobs because foreign companies have been "exempted" from the Jones Act and permitted to work under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. These foreign companies have no interest whatsoever in hiring US seamen and, for the most part, never do. To let this continue would fly in the face of common sense.

When President Obama was a candidate, he wrote the following:

"America needs a strong and vibrant U.S.-Flag Merchant Marine. That is why you and your members can continue to count on me to support the Jones Act (which also includes the Passenger Vessel Services Act) and the continued exclusion of maritime services in international trade agreements. American Merchant Mariners always have answered the nation’s call from the first days of the Revolutionary War to today. In peace and in war, our Mariners have stood with us and my Administration will stand with them." [Candidate Barack Obama in a letter dated August 28, 2008 to the Seafarer’s International Union]

Placing a moratorium on any future "waivers" will not interfere with production in those areas in the Outer Continental Shelf wherein foreign vessels with foreign crews already exist but it will result in companies using U.S. flagged vessels and U.S. seamen in the future.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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