Don’t limit Jones Act reform

In his recent Sound Off blog “Jones Act reform for Hawaii needed,” Michael Hansen, president of the Hawaii Shippers Council, makes some cogent arguments for the exemption of mainland Hawaii trade from the onerous and outdated provisions of the Jones Act.

The only problem with Hansen’s arguments are that they apply equally well to all trade covered by this 90-year-old legislation. Thus confining his comments to trade that affects his own organization is obviously self-serving.

Hansen claims that the HSC proposal for “Noncontiguous Trades Jones Act Reform,” which would exempt Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico from the U.S.-build requirement of the Jones Act, is “a limited and narrowly targeted reform.” One that would “greatly improve the efficiency of … oceanborne transportation between the U.S. mainland and domestic noncontiguous jurisdictions.” However, he fails to explain why such reforms, undoubtedly long overdue, wouldn’t provide the same benefits for trade between, for example, Houston and New York. 

With the savings in fuel costs and the reduction of wear-and-tear on roads and railways that ocean carriage would provide, any relaxing of restrictions on foreign-flag cabotage would actually be of greater benefit to the contiguous states than to Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and Hansen’s argument would be strengthened by their inclusion. The HSC is hoping that its proposal will be more palatable to legislators by being so limited, but there is no logical reason for it.

There are powerful interest groups still intent on preserving the Jones Act, but their argument seems increasingly counterproductive and irrelevant in this age of interdependence.

One can only wish that the persuasive arguments of those in influential positions, like Mr. Hansen, would be directed at eliminating all outmoded and artificial barriers to free trade rather than at furthering their own special interests.


About the author

Capt. Max Hardberger

Max Hardberger is a maritime attorney, flight instructor, writer, and maritime repo man. He has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1995. His memoir, Seized: A Sea Captain’s Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World’s Most Troubled Waters, was published by Broadway Books in 2010. He’s appeared on FOX, The Learning Channel, National Public Radio and the BBC, and has been the subject of articles in Fairplay Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Esquire (UK), and the London Sunday Guardian.

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