Offshore InjuryBlog

Impact of Jones Act Called into Question Amidst Storms

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, or the Jones Act, was a federal statute implemented into American history 97 years ago. The Jones Act was created in response to American shipping issues during World War I. During World War I, America suffered from a lack of trading vessels as trade ships were used for the war effort and could not continue on their mercantile routes. To make America more prepared for wartime trading, governing authorities felt that the best course of action was to create legislature that would spur on the shipbuilding industry in the United States, thus, the Jones Act.

Three Main Aspects to the Jones Act

  • Only American ships can conduct intercontinental trade within America ports.
  • Seaman’s rights were created, giving maritime workers the right to sue employers.
  • 75% of the crew on a “Jones Act” vessel must be U.S. citizens.

The main aspect of the Jones Act that economists debate over is the law that declares “Jones Act” vessels as the only ships allowed to conduct trading between American ports. In practice, this means that foreign ships cannot stop at an American port to pick up goods and then transport them to other American ports. In other words, foreign vessels may only export and import goods from America; they are not allowed to act as American couriers for American goods.

Why Have Storms Fueled Debates About the Jones Act?

The price of goods naturally increased for the citizens of Puerto Rico when their country was hit by Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico also faced an amplified need of overseas materials in addition to the surge in consumer goods costs. The timeframe of the relief effort was dependent on Puerto Rico’s ability to make transactions with cargo ships, foreign or otherwise. Many officials blamed the Jones Act for slowing down the relief effort in Puerto Rico because foreign ships had to pay tariffs on goods sold to the country. The U.S. government suspended the Jones Act for 10 days in answer to this criticism, allowing foreign countries to sell goods to Puerto Rico with no extra taxes.

The 10 days have come and gone, and the Jones Act was put back into effect. However, critics of the Jones Act continue to question why the act is still in effect. Naysayers believe that the Jones Act has kept the American economy behind on a global scale, sacrificing world-wide industry advancements to protect one aspect of American industry: shipbuilding. This type of legislation is called “protectionism” because it protects the interests of one narrow group and is not for the general public.

However, supporters have claimed that the Jones Act continues to preserve American jobs, as shipbuilding would no longer be as viable an industry in America if the Act were nullified. Shipbuilding would undoubtedly be cheaper in other countries, which would force production to become outsourced. This would result in American jobs going to foreign workers. Supporters argue that the negatives of losing jobs outweighs the positives of lower productions costs.

Without the Jones Act, American Seafarers Would Be Exposed to Unfair Labor Laws

The debate on the economic impact of the Jones Act may eventually alter aspects of the statute, but from a legal standpoint forfeiting the entire Jones Act is ill-advisable. Right now, the Jones Act is what gives American maritime workers the ability to sue their offshore employer if they are hurt while on the job. Cases and claims such as these would have no legal standing without the Jones Act. American seamen could sustain catastrophic injury or even be killed, but if the Jones Act was nullified families could not sue maritime companies. Therefore, forfeiting the Jones Act would result in a forfeiture of seaman’s rights.

Regardless of the possible changes that might affect the Jones Act, Arnold & Itkin will always standby the statutes of the Jones Act that uphold an employee’s right to sue a maritime employer. If the right to sue is taken away from employees, than offshore employers have no reason to keep their vessels safe. Legal action is the only defense against corporations that misuse their employees.

If you or a loved one has been hurt while at sea, call (888) 346-5024 immediately for a free consultation today.

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