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Suspension of Jones Act has done little to help Puerto Rico get supplies

Alex Daugherty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Weather News

The president eventually changed his mind and granted the 10-day waiver when Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello asked for it.

But during a congressional hearing Tuesday, representatives of Tote Maritime and Crowley, two of the biggest U.S. shipping companies delivering goods to Puerto Rico, told the House Transportation Committee that they hadn't heard from any foreign shipping companies that wanted to do business under the Jones Act waiver.

"Our companies operate two of the three terminals in the port of San Juan that would be contacted in order to unload vessels that would be under the waiver," said Tote CEO Anthony Chiarello. "We have not received a call requesting the need to unload the ships."

According to marine traffic data, as of 6 p.m. Friday there were no foreign-flagged ships docked in the Port of San Juan that traveled there from a U.S. port. There are at least three foreign-flagged cargo ships headed to San Juan from U.S. ports, which could be some of the 12 ships operating under the Jones Act waiver. Two of the ships are oil tankers and one is a container ship.

"Crowley has now delivered our 1,000th container load of FEMA relief supplies alone to Puerto Rico, and a lot more are on the way –– and we have delivered thousands more containers of commercial supplies that will aid the recovery," Crowley spokesman David DeCamp said in an email. "And other Jones Act carriers are working hard as well. We are unaware of any non-Jones Act carriers that actually have utilized the waiver."

The Jones Act does not prevent foreign-flagged ships traveling from other countries from going directly to Puerto Rico. Over two-thirds of the goods transported to Puerto Rico come from foreign ports.

"Foreign-flag carriers serving Puerto Rico from foreign ports operate under different rules, regulations, and supply and demand conditions and generally have lower costs to operate than Jones Act carriers have," said a 2013 Government and Accountability Office report that assesses Puerto Rico's maritime trade.

The degree to which the Jones Act makes goods in Puerto Rico more expensive is an open debate. Puerto Rican politicians tend to oppose the Jones Act, while the U.S. shipping industry and many members of Congress who represent states like Florida with thousands of jobs that depend on the Jones Act argue that it is a necessary tool for national security and promoting American jobs.

"The Jones Act ... makes everything that comes into Puerto Rico ... more expensive, and it can be repealed," San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said on CNN.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., who is Puerto Rican and the first member of Congress to visit Puerto Rico after Maria, wants the Jones Act repealed permanently because, she says, it hurts the island's economy.

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