U.S.-FLAG VESSELS READY TO EASE PORT CONGESTION
U.S. Maritime Administrator William G. Schubert told shippers and carriers caught up in the West Coast port labor strife Tuesday that U.S.-flag carriers are ready to ease cargo congestion.
“Qualified Jones Act vessels are standing by with available tonnage on the West Coast to assist any shipper or carrier in moving cargo forward as necessary,” Schubert said.
The domestic waterborne trades are regulated under the U.S.-flag vessel requirements of section 27 of the 1920 Merchant Marine Act, also known as the Jones Act.
U.S. Customs has considered granting foreign-flag vessel operators waivers to the Jones Act to help clear up the cargo congestion between the West Coast ports. MarAd said this action would violate the law, which only permits waivers during times of national defense.
''”The Maritime Administration does not believe that these current circumstances meet the definition of the interest of national defense, and hereby requests that the Customs Service instruct all of its personnel to enforce the provisions of the Jones Act,” said Schubert in an Oct. 9 letter to Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.
CSX Lines said it would divert a ship (the “CSX Enterprise” with a 1,000 40-foot-container capacity), if needed to pick up cargo in Los Angeles to ease port congestion for Oakland or provide other lifts to ease congestion.
Naknek Marine in Seattle, Crowley Marine Services, and Foss Maritime said they have tugs and barges available to reposition containers.
Totem Ocean Trailer Express said it has the ability to reposition one of its three Alaskan ships to move cargo in the Jones Act trade or carry foreign cargo as early as December, if necessary.
“The Maritime Administration is carefully evaluating all potential alternatives that would alleviate congestion in the ports, and expedite the delivery of cargo to its final destination,” Schubert said. “We would strongly encourage all non-Jones Act qualified carriers to consider utilizing the available domestic carriers for this purpose.”
However, Customs is under increasing pressure from foreign-flag carriers and industry groups to grant Jones Act waivers.
National Industrial Transportation League President Ed Emmett recently issued a letter asking Customs to allow a 90-day period for foreign-flag carriers to move cargo up and down the West Coast.
“This temporary waiver will not impair the long-term goal behind the coastwise rule, and the health of the U.S. commercial fleet will not be harmed by this proposed waiver,” Emmett said. He added that the U.S.-flag fleet “cannot even come close” to meeting the current coastwise demand.