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After consideration, the Trump administration will waive federal restrictions on foreign ships’ transportation of cargo to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. This comes after the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initially denied a request for a waiver. The Jones Act is century-old shipping law that Puerto Rican officials said was hindering efforts to get supplies to the island.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Trump is responding to a request from the governor, and the waiver “will go into effect immediately.”
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a United States federal statute that provides for the promotion and maintenance of the American merchant marine. Among other purposes, the law regulates maritime commerce in U.S. waters and between U.S. ports. Section 27 of the Jones Act deals with cabotage and requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents. The federal law prohibits foreign-flagged ships from shuttling goods between U.S. ports. The act was introduced by Senator Wesley Jones.
On September 25, U.S. Representative Nydia M. Velázquez led members of Congress in writing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security calling a temporary waiver of the Jones Act in order to expedite supplies being shipped into the island’s ports.
“The President must waive the Jones Act for one year. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. Puerto Ricans are without food, clean water and electricity. We must use every tool at our disposal to channel assistance to the Island,” Velázquez said.
The Act’s unintended consequence makes it twice as expensive to ship things from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico as it is to ship from any other foreign port in the world.
Members of both political parties have urged Trump to waive the Jones Act, reasoning it could help get desperately needed supplies delivered to the island more quickly and at less cost.
In a letter to the department on Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) urged DHS to rethink the decision, citing the agency’s willingness to waive the Jones Act for relief efforts in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“The Department of Homeland Security has been given the ability to waive the Jones Act to accommodate national security concerns, and has done so twice in the last month,” McCain wrote. “These emergency waivers have been valuable to speed up recovery efforts in the impacted regions. However, 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 called the department’s decision “unacceptable” and warned that Puerto Rico faces a humanitarian crisis as the island’s 3.4 million people struggle to survive without power or clean water.