What is the Jones Act?

Dec 4, 2019

The average person has heard of the Jones Act in passing yet does not understand what, exactly, it is and why it is so important.  The Jones Act was written and passed to function as a federal law that regulates maritime economic activity throughout the United States.  The Jones Act mandates goods shipped from one United States port to another be transported on vessels made, owned and operated by citizens of the United States or permanent residents of the United States.  The Jones Act is a component of the overarching Merchant Marine Act of 1920.

Why the Jones Act is so Important?

The Jones Act is a form of protectionist legislation as it governs maritime commerce issues such as cabotage or the transportation of goods/individuals from one port to another within the same nation.  The Jones Act also provides additional rights to sailors such as the right to pursue damages from crew members, ship owners and even ship captains if an injury occurs. The Jones Act’s most notable legacy might be its mandate that goods shipped from one port to another within the United States be hauled on vessels made, owned and operated by citizens of the United States.

Though the Jones Act is an important piece of legislation with plenty of fanfare within government, it hikes the cost of shipping to a variety of United States territories including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico as well as other non-continental lands in the United States reliant upon imports.  The Jones Act limits the number of ships that can deliver goods to these areas. The unfortunate truth is the number of ships made, owned and operated in the United States is quite limited compared to the number of ships participating in global commerce. Though the number of ships that qualify to transport goods in accordance with the nuances of the Jones Act stagnates, the demand for such goods is increasing as the population spikes.  As a result, insufficient competition has allowed shipping companies to hike their rates. The increase in shipping costs is passed directly on to consumers.

Why the Jones Act was Passed 

The United States Congress passed the Jones Act in an attempt to increase activity within the shipping industry after the end of World War I.  The act’s requirement that cargo be shipped between American ports with the use of American vessels proved particularly beneficial to Senator Wesley Jones’ constituents.  Jones, a Senator from Washington, was responsible for first introducing the act to fellow members of congress. Though the act certainly helped Jones’ status with his base, it also hiked shipping costs across the entirety of the nation.

Exceptions to the Jones Act 

The United States government has provided temporary waivers for Jones Act requirements several times in the past.  Such exceptions are typically made after a natural disaster, be it a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, etc. The logic in providing exceptions to the Jones Act is to ensure there is an adequate number of vessels that can transport goods to impacted areas without violating federal maritime commerce laws.  In other words, the federal government clearly understands the Jones Act has the potential to stifle trade and subsequent economic activity. This is precisely why specific exceptions to the act are periodically granted.

Injured on the Water?  We can Help 

Our New Orleans maritime and offshore accident attorney is here for you after your workplace injury.  If you are injured on the water in the Gulf of Mexico or another waterway near Louisiana, Texas, Alabama or Mississippi, reach out to our legal team right away.  We are here for all injured maritime workers. Put your faith in our maritime and offshore accident attorney and you will be able to rest easy knowing we will fiercely advocate on your behalf for justice in the form of financial compensation.

Contact Wright & Gray for a Free Consultation.

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