Maritime Group Endorses Tighter Jones Act Enforcement

Aug. 18, 2009
The Maritime Cabotage Task Force has endorsed US Customs and Border Protection actions to tighten enforcement of limits on non-US vessels carrying cargo in domestic lanes

The Maritime Cabotage Task Force (MCTF)has supported US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) action to eliminate rulings that allowed non-Jones Act vessels to engage in what MCTF termed “activities properly reserved for US-flag vessels.

“MCTF strongly supports CBP’s proposal, which will help ensure that our coastwise laws are properly applied with respect to the transportation of certain merchandise between US points,” the coalition stated in comments submitted on August 14, 2009. The proposal focuses largely on correcting the incremental misapplication of a 1976 decision in which CBP evaluated a range of activities undertaken by a pipeline repair vessel on the outer continental shelf, continued MCTF. Over the years, factors underlying the decision have been cited out of context, eroding the fundamental analysis, with the result that non-coastwise qualified vessels engaged in activities properly reserved for Jones Act-qualified vessels, the group explained.

The Jones Act requires that merchandise moving between points in the United States by water be carried in a vessel that is built in the US, owned by US citizens, documented under US registry, and crewed by US seafarers, continued MCTF. The Jones Act was enacted in 1920, but the United States has reserved the domestic trades to US vessels since 1817 and had other laws to promote a US-flag fleet since 1789, the group claims.

MCTF argues that, “A close reading of the 1976 decision makes clear that CBP never intended the definition of vessel equipment to depend solely on the mission of the vessel or to change dramatically from one vessel to the next. Permitting non-coastwise qualified vessels to carry equipment, supplies, or other articles that are not needed to navigate, operate, or maintain the vessel undermines the coastwise laws because it permits transportation that should be reserved for US coastwise qualified vessels.”

The Maritime Cabotage Task Force was founded in 1995 to promote the US-flag fleet engaged in domestic waterborne commerce. The group claims more than 400 members. “Nationwide, there are more than 39,000 vessels engaged in Jones Act commerce, and they annually move more than 1 billion tons of cargo and 100 million passengers,” adds MCTF.

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