The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, more commonly known as the Jones Act, was passed to promote and maintain the American merchant marine by, in part, regulating maritime commerce in U.S. territorial waters and between U.S. ports. For nearly 100 years, the Jones Act has required that U.S. flag ships, constructed in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents be used to transport all goods over water between U.S. ports. The Act also provides seaman the right to recover for personal injuries sustained in the service of his vessel.
Waivers to the Jones Act’s restriction limiting the transportation of good between U.S. ports to U.S. built, owned, and operated vessels can be granted when in the interest of the national defense. Typically, these waivers have been allowed during times of national emergency. Such a waiver was granted following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to foreign vessels carrying oil and natural gas. Recently, a similar waiver was granted for the Southeastern states following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
On September 28, 2017, President Trump authorized a waiver for all products bound to ports in Puerto Rico to aid in the worsening crisis on the Island following the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria.