November 28th 2018

If we want the United States to remain a great maritime power, we must preserve and protect the Jones Act, says Congressman John Garamendi.

In an OpEd published in The Hill, Garamendi traces the origins of the Jones Act, arguing that it will always be essential to America’s economy, security and national defense.

The Jones Act protects the jobs of all U.S. mariners, including every member of MM&P, by requiring that cargo moving between two U.S. ports be carried on ships that are U.S. built, U.S. owned and U.S. crewed.

In 1791, our nation’s first secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, founded the Revenue Cutter Service.

This entity, which would later become the U.S. Coast Guard, ensured that proper import duties were paid on goods arriving in the United States by sea.

“But Hamilton wasn’t just concerned with international trade,” Garamendi writes.

“He also understood the value of American shipbuilding, and he required that the cutters be built from American-made materials. Why? To strengthen America’s shipbuilding and domestic manufacturing sectors, which were crucial to our country’s national security and economic development.”

Today, the Jones Act supports a domestic maritime industry responsible for nearly half a million jobs and almost $100 billion in annual economic impact.

“If the Jones Act did not exist, this industry would be sharply undercut by foreign shippers with lower labor protections, environmental requirements and safety standards,” the California Democrat says.

“Not only would we outsource marine transportation along our coasts and inland waterways to the cheapest foreign bidder, we also would hollow out a key component of American industrial might.”

Garamendi notes that the Jones Act is likewise essential to our military, which relies on privately owned sealift capacity and highly trained merchant mariners to transport and sustain our armed forces deployed overseas in times of conflict.

The steep decline in the number of ocean-going U.S.-flag vessels–from 249 in the 1980s to at most 81 today—has far-reaching consequences that are not just theoretical, he writes.

“Our military has had to turn to foreign-flagged vessels for sustainment in times of war, and experience shows that can have dangerous consequences: in the 1991 Gulf War, our armed forces relied on 192 foreign-flagged ships to carry cargo to the war zone. The foreign crews on 13 vessels mutinied, forcing those ships to abandon their military mission.”

Would foreign-flag carriers be any more reliable today, Garamendi asks, especially for a long-term deployment in active war zones?

Of equal concern: Even with the Jones Act in place, the U.S. Transportation Command and the Federal Maritime Administration estimate that our country is now at least 1,800 mariners short of the minimum required for adequate military sealift.

“Without the Jones Act, our nation would be wholly unprepared to meet the labor demands of rapid, large-scale force projection for national security,” Garamendi writes.

“Since our founding, our country’s economy and national security have relied on a vibrant maritime industry as a fundamental pillar,” he writes.

“For nearly a century, the Jones Act has been the base of that pillar.”

“As we look to the future, if we want to keep the United States as a great maritime power, we would be wise to preserve and protect this flexible, durable and valuable maritime policy.”

Garamendi is ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.