Jones Act Study Highlights Inland Waterways

A new study defending the Jones Act highlights its effects in inland waterways.

The study was released March 1 by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a non-partisan think tank that includes many ex-military officers and leaders on its research staff.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920—more familiarly named the Jones Act after Sen. Wesley Jones, its sponsor—requires vessels carrying goods between U.S. ports to be built in the U.S. and manned by U.S. crews. It is often attacked by oil companies wishing to save money by using cheap foreign-flagged vessels, and by the state of Hawaii and the territory of Puerto Rico, which complain that the requirement that they use Jones Act vessels to import essential good raises their cost of living. Recent studies have challenged that argument, however.

The CSBA study, titled National Security Contributions of the U.S. Maritime Industry, restates many familiar arguments in support of the Jones Act. These include the Ready Reserve Fleet’s support of military interventions abroad and the maintenance of a body of trained mariners who can man the vessels that support those operations.

The report concedes that from a high of 200 U.S. registered blue-water commercial vessels at the end of World War II, the U.S. blue-water merchant fleet has shrunk to 83 ocean-going vessels but adds that it is “relatively similar in terms of tonnage.”

But it includes considerations of the Jones Act’s effects on the inland waterways that are not always mentioned by either its defenders or critics:

• It points out that Jones Act requirements ensure that only U.S. dredges can dredge Navy bases and other militarily sensitive areas. “Often overlooked, the U.S. domestic fleet includes American dredging, towing and salvage fleets. … A domestic dredging industry prevents the United States from depending on foreign companies to dredge its dozens of naval facilities, potentially opening up opportunities for sabotage or the depositing of underwater surveillance equipment.”

• It also notes that the U.S.’s shipbuilding capacity is maintained more by smaller shipyards than the few dedicated yards that fill military orders. “There are 13 large commercial shipbuilders in the United States and nearly a hundred minor shipyards that build smaller ships like offshore support vessels, tugboats and ferries … [T]hese minor shipyards are needed to build smaller Navy and Coast Guard ships, which are built sporadically and unlikely to support a domestic shipbuilding industry on their own.”

The report is available at this link.

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