Claims that lifting Jones Act for Puerto Rico would endanger security

An attempt by Puerto Rico to amend the Jones Act in order to give some relief to the beleaguered island economy has received a figurative shot across the bow from an influential private body that advocates for US Navy interests.

Last Wednesday Puerto Rico released a five-year restructuring plan for tackling its economic woes. The unincorporated US territory is in an economic downspin and has public debts which officials describe as “unpayable”. The five-year plan included the proposal to waive the Jones Act.

The 1920 Act mandates use of US-made vessels to deliver cargo on US waters and between US ports. Not only must the ships be constructed in the US but they must be US flagged, US owned and crewed by US citizens and permanent residents.

Critics say the law goes against free competition and leads to higher costs for shipping and goods.

But the Navy League of the United States, a civilian organization with 50,000 members dedicated to supporting naval interests, has countered with a claim that any loosening or undermining of the Act would be a threat to national security.

Back in late July the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit turned away a challenge to the Jones Act brought by six individuals and one corporation in Hawaii who had shipping interests.

Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.


  1. I have long supported the Jones Act to provide for a viable US merchant marine that benefits the entire country. However, a disproportionate share of this expense is paid by those of us who live and work in places like Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico, who are tied to US carriers. If the Jones Act benefits the whole country, then the whole country should be paying for the program.

    For those who think that abrogating the Jones Act is going to bring lower shipping costs, think again. Initially that will probably happen; however, long term we will be at the mercy of foreign shipping companies and Governments. We’ve been down this road before, when Communist countries expanded their merchant marine and tried to undercut freight rates to build their market share and strategic position at the expense of free world merchant marines. That was the goal, so that they could call the shots and the rates after they drove their capitalist rivals out of business.

    What will happen if we lose what little Merchant Marine we still have? The only employer of US seamen will be Military Sealift Command. We will have few if any merchant vessels left and if we hope to be able to project military forces anywhere in the world of any consequence, we could be shut out as Governments refuse to allow their ships to be chartered by us or do so at exorbitant rates.

Back to top button