Quick Study: What is the Jones Act?

Waiving the Jones Act may help move goods to Puerto Rico.
Waiving the Jones Act may help move goods to Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security today announced that it will waive an obscure maritime law to help storm-battered Puerto Rico.

     The Jones Act was passed to protect American shipping interests, but by setting it aside for 10 days, the government hopes to move supplies swiftly to the island. The decision follows a request from the governor of Puerto Rico. But what is the Jones Act (also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920), and why do we have it? Here is the rundown:

The definition: Homeland Security defines the Jones Act this way: “The Jones Act prohibits the transportation of cargo between points in the U.S., either directly or via a foreign port, or for any part of the transportation, in any vessel other than a vessel that has a coastwise endorsement (e.g. a vessel that is built in and owned by persons who are citizens of the United States).”

The purpose: The intent of the Jones Act “was to protect U.S. shipping interests,” according to a Homeland Security publication, “Coastwise Trade: Merchandise.”  It is among laws with "highly protectionist provisions that are intended to create a ‘coastwise monopoly’ in order to protect and develop the American merchant marine, shipbuilding, etc."

The sponsor: Sen. Wesley L. Jones (1863-1932), R-Wash. Regarded as influential, Jones served five terms as representative for the state. In 1909, he was elected to the Senate, where he served four terms,  according to the website, Social Networks and Archival Context Cooperative, hosted by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
    As chairman of the appropriations and commerce committees, he promoted “federal investment in the Pacific Northwest,” the website said. “He led the development of the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton (Washington), successfully championed several federal irrigation projects in the region, and drafted the Jones Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which stipulated that only American ships could carry cargo between American ports (which made Alaska dependent on Seattle-owned shipping firms).”

      To know more:


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