On September 28, 2017, President Trump granted a ten day waiver of the Jones Act for the island of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, in an effort to facilitate the island’s recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The waiver went into effect immediately and alleviates the Jones Act’s restriction against the transport of passengers and cargo between U.S. ports, which includes Puerto Rico, by foreign flagged, foreign owned, or foreign crewed vessels. A similar waiver was issued for the states of Texas and Florida in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as the Jones Act, was developed to afford protections to the then fledgling U.S. maritime industry. In an effort to foster U.S. shipbuilding, shipping, and seafaring, the Jones Act required vessels transporting passengers and goods between U.S. ports to be built in the U.S., to be owned by U.S. individuals or entities, and to be U.S. flagged. The Jones Act also required all licensed crewmembers serving aboard vessels engaged in trade between U.S. ports to be U.S. citizens. The Jones Act also established a system of legal rights, remedies, compensation benefits, and procedural requirements for injured American seaman, much like state and federal workers’ compensation schemes.