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US waives Jones Act limits in Puerto Rico: Update

28 Sep 2017, 8.04 pm GMT

US waives Jones Act limits in Puerto Rico: Update

Adds details throughout

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 requires shipments between domestic ports to occur on US-owned, flagged and crewed ships. 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.

Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello asked for the waiver last night and Trump agreed issuing it was "absolutely the right thing to do and waived it right away," White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said today. He said there was no shortage of Jones Act tonnage available to transport products to Puerto Rico, but there have been problems transporting products that make it to ports because land-based routes are clogged with debris.

"We had enough capacity of US-flagged vessels to take more than, to exceed the need, of diesel fuel and other commodities into Puerto Rico," he said. "It was a little bit misunderstood that we had capacity problems and had to waive the Jones Act," he said.

The waiver applies to merchandise loaded within the next 10 days that is delivered by 18 October.

The US Department of Homeland Security earlier this week held back on issuing a waiver because it said there was enough Jones Act shipping capacity available. Trump told reporters yesterday that the administration was hesitant to issue 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.

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 co-sponsored a bill to exempt Puerto Rico permanently from the Jones Act, 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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