Utah senator introduces bill to repeal Jones Act

Last week, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced the Open America’s Water Act of 2019, a bill that would repeal the Jones Act and allow all qualified vessels to engage in domestic trade between U.S. ports.

“Restricting trade between U.S. ports is a huge loss for American consumers and producers. It is long past time to repeal the Jones Act entirely so that Alaskans, Hawaiians, and Puerto Ricans aren’t forced to pay higher prices for imported goods—and so they rapidly receive the help they need in the wake of natural disasters,” Lee said in a statement.

In 1920, Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act (the Jones Act), which requires all goods transported by water between U.S. ports to be carried on a vessel built in the U.S., registered in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed primarily by U.S. citizens.

The Cato Institute estimates that after accounting for the inflated costs of transportation and infrastructure, the forgone wages and output, the lost domestic and foreign business revenue, and the monetized environmental toll the annual cost of the Jones Act is in the tens of billions of dollars.

About the author

David Krapf

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.


  1. Avatar

    Perhaps a partial repeal is in order or at least a phase out designed to cover the continued viability of the large Jones Act supply boat fleet. However, the lack of any Jones Act LNG vessels and the scarcity of Jones Act tankers does result in serious distortions when it comes to supplying the Northeast with crude and refined products from the Gulf Coast.

    It seems that every winter we end up importing LNG from Europe to Boston even though we have domestic LNG available on the Gulf Coast. Ditto with crude supplied to Eastern Seaboard refineries and with refined products supplied to the same area from Canada and from Europe. At the end of the day, the Northeast consumes ~5 mm bbl/day of refined product, produces 1 mm bbls per day and imports all but 600,000/day which arrives via the Colonial Pipeline from the Gulf Coast.

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    “and serve as a naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency,”
    Imagine war breaks out and you have no ships because you wanted consumers to have cheap stuff

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    I would like for someone to look deeper and see if Sen. Mike Lee has any business or ties that he would benefit from doing away with the Jones act . It just seems like Senators and Congressman have agendas that benefit their payroll…..hmmmmm.

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    M.Dicello C/E ulimited on

    And there goes any vestiges of the US MERCHANT MARINERS. So who will the US military use for the next far flung conflict that requires tonnage to move the materials? Think Chinese ships will line up? Soon there will be no American mariners left to fill those ready reserves ships, and they already have issues filling slots on the MSC ships. This will just exacerbate the personnel issues.
    Why work a job that pays like what foriegn flag ship pay? They have AB seamen getting paid 30 bucks a day and they sign on for a year, how many Americans will do that for that kind of money?
    As for the cost factor you think it will drop prices of products? The companies that ship in products will just make more profit, they know they have a captured customer base. That was the same lie that was used when All the manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas, oh it will make everything cheaper! How many cheap Nikes you seen?
    This will also allow companies to get rid of the merchant mariner who populate the drill ships and semi sub offshore in the GOM. Why pay a C/E 15k a month when you can bring in a Philippino who will work for a third of that? Or even less.
    There have been contributing writers on here over the years that have been proponents of axing the Jones act go ahead but then do not cry when there is no US Merchant Mariners to fill positions. If there ar any left if this passes.

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    Anything to screw the American Sailors out of a job. Cut our wages while prices of goods keep going up. If the Jones Act is repealed, then the American Sailors and Seamen will be put out of jobs or forced to work for basically nothing.

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    Steve Thompson on

    Good day David,

    Number one, I hope that they do not repeal the Jones Act. It protects our merchant marine and maintains a viable work force to man the MPS/Marad ships when necessary due to world wide events that these vessels have to be manned and ready for all contingencies. Even now our merchant marine has been reduced to dangerous levels even with the Jones Act in place.

    Remember the Jones act protects not only vessels in our “coast wise” trade which by law includes the Great Lakes , rivers, and canals , bays, and sounds trades, but also the “second tier shipyards. The means of protection is the requirement that the vessels in the Jones Act trades be built in America and owned by Americans, and crewed by American mariners. These American seamen are employed between major sea lift events in our domestic waterborne trades and thus available when sea lift mobilization is needed again. The yards that build the Jones Act vessels are as necessary to our defense as the mariners. Unlike the naval contract dependent major yards which have been disappearing (such as Avondale) the Jones Act yards are commercially viable and capable of building some fairly large craft. During WWII they built most of the landing craft, many of the submarines, patrol boats, shuttle tankers. In more recent times they have built Coast Guard and Navy patrol craft, Coast Guard Buoy Tenders, and Army transports . These yards do not depend on military contracts, they stay economically viable building and repairing the Jones Act fleets.

    The river towing industry has been a prime mover of heavy artillery and armored vehicles from Mid Western National Guard units to tide water in support of overseas operations. The Jones Act protects a system of vessels, mariners, and yards. All three must be protected. There can be no compromise. Protect our domestic waterborne trades in totality as the Jones Act provides or we wind up exactly as the Chinese were at the start of the Boxer Rebellion.

    If perchance the Jones Act is repealed and the Open America’s Water Act of 2019 in enacted there must be a very strongly worded section in the act that any vessel transporting goods between US ports must have at least 50% US Merchant Mariners on board no exceptions. However, this fall back position of protecting half of the American jobs is way too little to late. I urge the continuation and enhanced enforcement of the Jones Act as written. A compromise is the beginning of the end of the nation.

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    I suppose a US Senator from Utah could possibly know what he is talking about regarding International and domestic movements of cargo by water.

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    The Jones Act isn’t just ships, it covers commercial fishing, tugs, barges, ferries and other commercial boats. None of them would be built here. Their captains and crews would be the cheapest foreign labor available. And ship owners backing this bill would soon realize the foreign owners would soon out cheapskate them, taking away all the shipping.

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    Where is the rest of the story? Any non-maritime person reading this would certainly agree with Senator Lee, but you and I both know there were, and are reasons for the protections and provisions in the Jones Act that are still important to the U. S. maritime industry and our mariners.

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    Gregory Schub on

    Disaster for Merchant Marine, environment and enforcing regulation. Lighten up on Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

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    The Jones Act isn’t just about deep sea shipping. That ship has sailed. Everyone should honestly consider how much cheaper it would be to build tugs and barges in China and bring them here.

    Within a few years China could train enough tug operators and build enough boats to replace those currently operating in the rivers and harbors of the US. American farm goods will be cheaper and we can sell more. Heck, harbor tugs should be cheaper, too. I know it will make offshore oil exploration cheaper and it should help bring down the cost of houses with all the seamen out of work.

    Getting rid of the Jones Act will open up a lot of new jobs – in China.

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    Sorry, but the Senator misses the point, Hawaii is 2,300 mi from CA and Puerto Rico is 900mi from FL and neither island provides any back haul shipping opportunity hence the extra cost to service those islands.

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    Captain Alvin Lee Schamber on

    Thats a bunch of BS if the jones act were to be repealed the loss of American jobs American wages would be 10 times that of the loss of international revenue. And what the hell does Utah have to do with the Maritime industries-Jones act? They don’t even have ports don’t know what you’re talking about

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    Steve Banfill on

    Foreign Mercenaries could then run the United States Military and then we could import Foreign Workers to step into every facet of the domestic market and thus save tens of billions of more dollars. In other words there are many ramifications in Mr. Lee’s Proposal.

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    What about the taxes that each state gets from the Mariner? What about the jobs that will be lost? We need more us merchant mariners and more ships.

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    Terrence Carmody on

    The Jones act doesn’t raise the price of goods and it guarantees Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and other Island territories receive goods no matter what. Also foriegn flagged vessels are allowed to enter these ports. Any effort to repeal the Jones act is an attempt to take away American jobs. I am a Merchant marine for 26years and feel an obligation to deliver the goods no matter what.

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    duane shelato on

    I’m not well versed on the current law or this new bill. My concern is that the St Lawrence river will be opened up to some third world “P.O.S. Tub” that will leak crap into my river.
    If it’s american made and operated, the company has a lot to loose if they are not responsible.

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    Not sure who bribed Lee? Is nothing sacred? We’re often so undermined by greed of our politicians. This is not a good idea for most foreign merchant fleets are subsidized by their Governments, whom mostly use low wage labor. Lees cover is blown, he’s another Liberal
    saying he’s conservative. Make American Mercant Fleets Better Not Mothballed.

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    Brent Stewart on

    Why was it that Lee (a RINO) and McCain (seeking the interests of their lobbyist friends no doubt) putting out so much effort to repeal the Jones Act? They are/were senators of land locked states with no dog in this hunt. Were Murkowski and Hirono on this? McCain intentionally mischaracterized the situation in Puerto Rico. Crowley had delivered the goods and it was the truckers and politicians that couldn’t/wouldn’t deliver them. He scapegoated us and lied for his own political self interest

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    What many uneducated opponents of the Jones Act do not realize is the unique coastline and inland waterways of our country. We have thousands of miles of coastline and inland rivers where the vast majority of our imports and exports are transported. Most countries have silimar laws to the Jones Act yet they have a fraction of the coastline and waterways the US has. It seems every week that we hear of overloaded ferries in Asia capsizing with hundreds on board. Poorly maintained foreign flag bulk ships sinking in moderate weather. This is the quality of vessels and crews which will be plying our inland waterways should the Act be repealed. The safety and security implications during peace time are enormous, not to mention the obvious war time implications of a dwindled US fleet.

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    Sean Fernstrum on

    David, in the future, could you please add links to the politician’s social media and email accounts? It would make it much more convenient the next time this myopic idea comes up or something else like the elimination of the Merchant Marine, yet again.

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    William Billman on

    I can’t begin to imagine the devastation to our shipyards, maritime fleet and merchant mariners if the Jones Act is repealed. Why is a Senator from a landlocked state (UTAH) even concerned about this? If the Senator’s concern was maritime commerce to Alaska. Hawaii and Puerto Rico, then he is blind to the impact and devastation it will cause. Imagine a Russian crude carrier loading oil in New Orleans and transporting it to Florida. No one employed under foreign flag will be paying U.S. income taxes on their wages, etc.

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    Cabotage is the transport of goods or passengers between two places in the same country by a transport operator from another country. It originally applied to shipping along coastal routes, port to port, but now applies to aviation, railways, and road transport as well. Why should the USA allow this when other countries do not?

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