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US waives Jones Act shipping limits in Puerto Rico

28 Sep 2017, 2.38 pm GMT

US waives Jones Act shipping limits in Puerto Rico

Washington, 28 September (Argus) — President Donald Trump's administration waived Jones Act shipping restrictions for deliveries of fuel and other products as part of the ongoing relief effort in Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

The administration approved the 10-day waiver today after bipartisan pressure to provide relief from the Jones Act, a longstanding law that makes importing products to the US territory more expensive. Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on 20 September, causing wind and flooding that damaged ports and homes and destroyed most of the island's electric grid and communications systems.

US acting homeland security secretary Elaine Duke said the waiver will ensure that "all options" are available to transport products to Puerto Rico. The Jones Act requires shipments of products between domestic ports to occur on US-owned, flagged and crewed ships, which are typically more expensive to charter than foreign-flagged vessels.

"It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms," Duke said.

The US Department of Homeland Security had previously held back on issuing a waiver, in part because it said there was enough Jones Act shipping capacity available. Trump told reporters that the administration was hesitant about issuing a waiver because of pressure from domestic shipping companies.

"We are thinking about [issuing a waiver], but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that do not want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships over there right now," Trump said yesterday.

But that position caused bipartisan anger in the US Congress, which said the administration should extend the same relief from the Jones Act it provided to Florida and other states in the southeast US that were affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Those earlier waivers, which expired on 22 September, only covered shipments of refined petroleum products.

US senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who wants to repeal the law, on 26 September said it was "unacceptable" to force Puerto Rico to pay more for food, clean water and infrastructure as they recover. US senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who visited Puerto Rico in the wake of the storm, called on the administration to issue the waiver.

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