The Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA) has launched the Jones Act Enforcer, a first-of-its-kind vessel that will be used to gather video and photographic evidence of Jones Act violations. Evidence of violations will be submitted to authorities, made public, and shared with the media, OMSA said.

The Jones Act — which requires cargo shipped between two U.S. points to be carried by U.S.-built, -crewed, and -owned vessels — is the primary component of U.S. maritime policy and is vital to U.S. national, homeland and economic security. For this reason, the Jones Act enjoys the support of the Navy, Coast Guard, Maritime Administration, and members of Congress, OMSA says.

The Jones Act Enforcer was not built new for this job. In its press release, OMSA did not provide any specifications or details on the size or origin of the boat, though it looks very much like it began its life as an offshore service vessel. In addition, there are no details as to the specific equipment the boat will use to gather video and photographic evidence. There is also no information on who would be manning the vessel.

But OMSA did say that despite the Jones Act’s importance and support, the Act is not fully enforced. Specifically, OMSA said, officials within Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have approved dozens of loophole requests from foreign vessel owners that are not found in law. Once approved, these loopholes are exploited repeatedly by other vessels. Each time the loophole is exploited, U.S. crewmembers lose out.

OMSA has long fought to close the illegal loopholes through Congress, multiple administrations, and even filing suit against CBP. The efforts have yielded progress but there continues to be far too many loopholes allowing too many foreign vessels to work in offshore energy projects, the group says.

“The Act is not being implemented in a manner that is correct under the law and as a result American security is being threatened and American workers are losing jobs to foreign vessels,” said Aaron Smith, OMSA's president and CEO. “It’s time that someone takes a stand and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

“The Jones Act is very simple. If a foreign vessel picks up cargo at one point in the United States and takes it to another point, it has broken the law,” Smith continued. “Foreign vessels have succeeded in confusing this issue for a long time. Now, we’re going to shine a bright spotlight on their actions and show everyone just how many foreign mariners are taking money out of U.S. mariners’ pockets. If foreign vessel owners or the companies they work for don’t like this scrutiny, I suggest they hire U.S.-owned, U.S.-crewed, and U.S.-built vessels.”

OMSA said the Jones Act Enforcer is designed to produce evidence that show foreign-flag vessels that continue to violate U.S. law by transporting merchandise between points in the U.S., utilizing their significantly lower crewing costs to undercut U.S. vessels and U.S. workers.

“OMSA, along with our over 140-member companies, has decided to take action with the launch of the Jones Act Enforcer,” said Smith. “Evidence will be collected through aerial and surface surveillance equipment made public and turned over to authorities.”

The Jones Act is enforced by CBP. Since 1976, CBP created numerous non-statutory loopholes to the Jones Act, OMSA said. These loopholes have allowed foreign-flagged vessels to transport energy equipment between U.S. points in contravention of the law and the detriment of U.S. mariners.

OMSA said that since 2009, CBP has openly acknowledged three times that they wrongly exceeded their authority. However, after the first two acknowledgements, CBP failed to follow through on the remedy they promised, OMSA said. The third time came in 2019 when CBP sought to close the loopholes they had created, while also creating new loopholes to the Jones Act allowing foreign vessels to engage in “lifting operations.” These operations could include the transportation of merchandise between two U.S. points, in direct contravention to the text of the Jones Act, OMSA said.

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