Senate Committee Approves Provision to Improve Jones Act Waiver Process

The Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee approved on November 2, 2011 language in S. 1430, the Maritime Administration Act for Fiscal Year 2012, that would require the Maritime Administration to certify that it is not possible to “use a United States flag vessel or United States flag vessels collectively to meet national defense requirements” when issuing waivers of the navigation and vessel-inspection laws, e.g., Jones Act waivers.


This provision is a response to the oil release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) over the summer of 2011. The Obama Administration waived the Jones Act nearly 50 times to allow foreign shipping companies to transport the oil released from the SPR. The Jones Act requires the use of American vessels and American seafarers when moving cargo between two points in the United States. In waiving the Jones Act, the Administration outsourced jobs to foreign vessels and foreign workers even though some 30 American vessels of various sizes were available to assist in the transportation of SPR oil.


S. 1430 would ensure transparency in the waiver process by requiring the Maritime Administration to certify why it is not using American vessels. This change in law will help ensure that U.S. flag vessels are given appropriate consideration prior to the issuance of any waivers being granted. The provision is strongly supported by the American Maritime Partnership, and Chairmen John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Ranking Members Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) are to be commended for their prompt action on this important issue.


NEWBUILD PROGRAM ANNOUNCED FOR 16 NEW U.S.-FLAG OFFSHORE SUPPLY VESSELS: A major operator of U.S.-flag offshore supply vessels has approved a new vessel construction program that will lead to 16 vessels joining the Jones Act fleet in the next few years. Hornbeck Offshore Services, Inc. based in Covington, La., is committing $720 million to build the vessels. The first of the new hulls should enter service in 2013. Another 16 vessels could be ordered if market conditions warrant.