The Senate agreed today to ask the U.S. Congress to pass a law that grants a partial exemption to Puerto Rico on compliance with Jones Act (cabotage) laws to allow the use of large maritime vessels built outside the United States.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 21, authored by New Progressive Party minority leader Larry Seilhamer-Rodríguez, orders a petition be submitted in Congress to ask for legislation to get partial exemption from compliance with federal legislation on cabotage to allow the island to use of large oceangoing vessels built outside the United States on port routes for Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico.
Federal law provides that cabotage maritime transportation between Puerto Rico and the rest of the U.S. mainland has to be done only via ships built in the United States, owned by stateside operators, sail under U.S flag, and staffed by a U.S. crew.
The law governs shipping activity in four of the seven non-contiguous domestic jurisdictions, — Hawaii, Alaska, the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, the territory of American Samoa, the community of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands are fully exempt.
Recently, the U.S. Government Accountability Office looked into the effects of cabotage laws in Puerto Rico, concluding among other things that it would make economic sense for the island to use other ships besides the U.S.-flagged fleet. The GAO study revealed that American vessels used to transport energy sources, agricultural materials and other bulk cargo do not adequately address the island’s economic needs.
Local lawmakers concluded that it is necessary to obtain a partial waiver to allow the entry of natural gas vessels from the United States to tap into the vast amounts of that type of fuel.