How the Jones Act Affects the U.S. Navy

Since 1920, the Merchant Marine Act has served to protect workers on vessels traveling between American ports. Also known as the Jones Act, it provides protections to Americans working on ships normally provided to US workers on land. As a whole, the law was designed to bolster American trade. Besides protecting offshore workers from employer negligence, this law introduced several restrictions on American maritime trade that focused on bolstering the country’s seafaring capabilities.

To understand how the Jones Act affects the navy, it is important to know the following stipulations of the law:

  • Ships transporting goods between American ports must be built in America and operate under the American flag. The company that owns this ship must also be American and the ship must have a crew that is at least 75 percent American.
  • Only 10 percent of repairs to American ships can use foreign steel.
  • Companies that operate American boats must have the facilities needed to maintain and use their vessels.

These conditions of the Jones Act have produced a strong American maritime infrastructure that lends crucial assistance when needed to the United States Navy. A robust maritime infrastructure serves to assist the Navy in times of war as American cargo operations have the capabilities to meet the loading demands of military vessels. However, the Jones Act does not just create infrastructure for cargo loading—it helps ensure that the Navy has a robust fleet of private vessels to assist it if there is a military confrontation that requires foreign ships to be banned from United States ports. This means that the US Navy can rely on the infrastructure that already exists at the nation’s ports during times of war or emergencies. This function of the American maritime industry is known as “dual use.”

Dual Use in American History

The principle of dual-use has its origins in the American Revolutionary War. In the first naval battle of the conflict, a merchant with loyalty to Britain attempted to supply British troops under the Siege of Boston. The merchant ships were accompanied by the HMS Margaretta, which was armed for battle. Unhappy with the presence of the British, locals seized one of the British merchant ships and the HMS Margaretta attempted to flee the harbor. The commandeered merchant ship was armed along with another local ship and set out to confront the fleeing British warship. Ultimately, the captain of the British ship was killed, and the vessel was captured. Known as the Battle of Machias, the incident represents an early example of the importance of dual-use vessels in times of war.

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