Support the Jones Act

I ask you to remain steadfast and to support the Jones Act and everything that it stands for.

Blessey Marine Services, a company I started out of a home office in the 1970s, now owns and operates more than 85 inland boats and 170 tank barges, making it one of the largest inland liquid petroleum carriers in the country. We operate on every navigable tributary of the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, including the Missouri, Arkansas, Red, Ouachita, Illinois, Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Cumberland rivers (as well as Lake Michigan and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.) We employ 800 hard working Americans who live anywhere from Arizona to Pennsylvania. My home Congressional district has the largest number of maritime-employed constituents of any Congressional district in America. Accordingly, I would like to make the following observations:

The Jones Act requires that all vessel crewmembers employed on vessels in coastwise domestic shipping (i.e. between two U.S. ports) must be U.S. citizens. We spend great time and money screening employment applications, and then mentoring, training, and leading our crews. We spend a great amount of time and money to ensure compliance with U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security regulations, which are in place for one reason: to make America and its waterways safe in every aspect. Yes, we could possibly hire foreigners cheaper. However, we would risk a lower standard of performance. We would risk an industry with more collisions, allisions, and oil spills. Since Exxon Valdez, our industry has spent nearly 30 years working with the USCG to put in place protections for all aspects of the inland marine industry, including safe equipment, safe navigation and operations, and efficient and comprehensive training. Who would monitor these foreign crews? Neither the USCG nor Homeland Security is set up to regulate foreigners working on inland vessels. We would risk saboteurs who could cause incredible damage. I do not think so – not on my watch.

The Jones Act requires that majority ownership of any vessel operating coastwise must be U.S. citizens. This makes sense to us. Do we want foreigners controlling our domestic commerce? Again, we do not think so.

Finally, the Jones Act requires that equipment used in domestic shipping trade routes must be built in the U.S. We only own and operate marine equipment. We do not own or operate a shipyard. If “built in America” is done away with, significant jobs will be exported and significant skills will fade away. Yes, we as operators may be able to buy our equipment cheaper from a foreign shipyard. However, we feel that a vibrant shipbuilding industry is in our national interest. Trained, skilled, high-paying jobs for U.S. welders, pipefitters, laborers, and even supervisors would be outsourced to the lowest common denominator. Export our textile industry, which we already have done since there is no national security interest in doing so. Leave America’s mariners, shipyards, and longshoremen alone.

I have spent the past 50 years in the oil and gas industry, first as an independent oil trader, and now as a carrier of petroleum products for oil and gas majors, minors, and commodity trading companies. Capitalism is the foundation of America. But I refuse to allow folks to barter away a common sense national security element when it is unnecessary. I am a free trade guy except when it comes to our national security. I believe that our national security interests trump free trade, and I encourage your support of the Jones Act.

About the author

Walter Blessey

Walter E. Blessey Jr. is the chairman and CEO of Blessey Marine Services Inc., a Harahan, La.-based tank barge operator

17 Comments

  1. Screw the Jones Act. We use to ship a 40′ box to Hawaii for $2200 now it is $6200 Needless to say, someone is making tons of Money because of the bigger fool theory. You can ship a 40′ box to Asia for under 4K.

  2. Thanks for speaking out Mr. Blessey. The Jones Act was written “to ensure a vibrant United States maritime industry and for national defense as stated in the preamble to the Merchant Marine Act of 1920”. Short sighted offshoring in many U.S. industries has proven to be an infection to the economic health of this country and has slowly deteriorated the manufacturing arm of our economy. Nullifying the Jones Act will compound this further. As a supplier to the shipbuilding industry I have worked for 40 years to grow a business, employ my neighbors, and help sustain my community. I personally like the idea of a strong US shipbuilding industry, employing US citizens, supplying a strong US shipping industry, crewed by US seamen. From an economic, safety, and national security point of view this sounds like a sound business practice to me.

  3. I’ve been a crewman, captain and vessel owner. I also worked in shipyards (none that exist today). I am biased. The Jones Act does a few important things, ensures we have properly built ships, the mariners to operate them, and the facilities and skilled workers to build and repair ships in a national emergency.
    Maybe Marc Vogal would like to farm out our technology and warship construction to China. I’m sure they could do it cheaper, but at what cost.
    Perhaps we could have the Philippines or Bangladesh build and man our ferries, move our oil barges and so on…

  4. Support the Jones act because it lines the pockets of cronies and rent-seekers like you? No thanks. End it now. Compete in the free market, like everyone else.

    • ^This.

      Who exactly are we supposed to be worried about as a national security threat here? Who are we at war with who would be willing to conduct the acts you described? When did the last recorded incident of the types of dangers you have described occur in the shipping industry?

      If anything the shipping industry’s precarious state is because you’ve been coddled by the Jones Act, which has made the industry soft and more easily disrupted if forced to compete globally. Time to grow up. Our national security depends on that, not your straw man argument.

  5. A repeal of the Jones act would put a massive number of Americans out of work. Anyone who supports removing the jones act should think long and hard about what they’re saying. There are much less wealthy countries with a lower cost of living that would swoop in and take over the marine transportation industry in a heartbeat. Though, there may be some things I do not appreciate on the jones act, I for one love that we have something fighting for us to keep my job afloat.

  6. What a self-serving piece. The headline is total click-bait. The author made no connection to national security at all.

    Paraphrase — “I believe in capitalism and free-trade except for my industry”.

    Everyone knows the Jones Act is protectionist dawdle and adds millions of dollars of cost to our economy.

  7. Blessey is trying to say he’s a lousy businessman and can’t compete on a level playing field, and the we have to pay higher prices for his incompetence. Keep a sharp eye out for those German U-boats that the Jones Act was written to protect against!

  8. Although I understand the rationale for the Jones Act, it appears that there should be a way for the President to temporarily rescind it during times of calamity or national disaster such as what has happened to Puerto Rico.

  9. Ronald F. Eschete on

    I am retired merchant seaman, but I am in agreement with your opinion. The subject, if truly looked at, is complex. But, on balance, I see JA as a net positive. Also, hard to get people to go against their best interest. So I think it is useless to ask JA sailors and workers to turn their back on their paycheck.

  10. Tow boat supporter on

    If thats the case why arent wheelman tankerman and deck hands paid more? I mean you making so much money but the hard working people actually making it for you are greatly underpaid at every company in the entire oil and gas industry.

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