A Salted Jones Act

Marine Log (Feb. 26, 2014) “NJ rock salt saga: Poor planning, not the Jones Act to blame”

“The great New Jersey rock salt shortage has apparently come to an end, and so, too, perhaps the Garden State’s assaults on the Jones Act. A U.S.-flagged barge carrying the first shipment of 40,000 tons of rock salt from Maine arrived yesterday at the Port of Newark.

“An unrelenting, bitter winter had nearly exhausted New Jersey’s stockpile of road salt by early February. After exploring several options, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) said it had located a 40,000-ton pile of salt in Searsport, ME. NJDOT said a foreign-flagged cargo ship Anastasia S. was in Searsport available to transport the salt to New Jersey. However, to use the foreign ship, NJDOT said it was requesting a waiver of the federal Jones Act, the law that requires cargo transported between points in the U.S. to move only on American vessels.

“NJDOT filed a request to waive the Jones Act on February 13. Federal officials did not grant the request. In order for a waiver to be granted, federal criteria stipulate that it: (1) Must be an issue of national defense and that no U.S.-flag vessels are available. That, in turn, led to a lot of finger pointing, with the Jones Act being the primary target.

“U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) had a different take on the situation. In a joint statement issued today, the Senators said:

“‘We are pleased to hear that the first shipment of rock salt arrived at Port Newark last night. When we first heard about the emergent nature of the state’s salt shortage in media reports, we immediately contacted the appropriate federal agencies on behalf of the health, safety and well-being of New Jersey residents seeking help in expediting procurement and delivery of much needed rock salt.

“‘What has become clear is that the State Department of Transportation has fallen short in planning for and addressing its dwindling salt supply. There were numerous opportunities to enlist our help, including at least one direct conversation with Commissioner Simpson, in which the apparent salt crisis wasn’t even mentioned. In the face of an emergency, citizens of New Jersey expect its officials to do everything possible to protect the public from potential harm and in this case, the State has fallen short.

“‘It is our understanding that NJDOT’s request to waive the Jones Act was denied because it was determined that American vessels were readily available to transport the salt from Maine to New Jersey, a development we were glad to help facilitate and expedite. We stand ready to act and to advocate for our fellow New Jerseyans at the federal level, but can only do so when we are informed of a potential issue. It doesn’t matter if it’s John Q. Public, a local mayor or in this case, the State. Had offers for help not been ignored, we could have worked in partnership, provided appropriate guidance on the best way to achieve their intended goal, and most likely avoided this unnecessary situation.

“‘We would caution those who would recklessly call for the abolition of the Jones Act, which has served for nearly a century to protect our national and economic security. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – which prohibits the use of foreign-flagged vessels for transporting goods between U.S. ports – was designed to support America’s strong shipping industry, while ensuring our country’s readiness to defend itself against a national security threat.

“‘The lesson learned here should not be to repeal or blame the Jones Act, but to work in partnership to achieve a common goal. The State’s poor planning should not become New Jersey resident’s emergency.'” –

Well said, Senators. Go to the head of the class. But wait, there’s more – more lessons to be learned, as a matter of fact.

“Short sea shipping” has recently been renamed “America’s Marine Highway Program”, but with all due respect to Secretary LaHood, this new monicker doesn’t really tell the story. One still has to explain that America’s Marine Highway Program is all about “short sea shipping.”

To his credit, Secretary LaHood intended to emphasize the “emergent” need of short sea shipping, and he did us a favor by calling it to our attention with his “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007” initiative. “America’s Marine Highway Program,” the Act states, “is designed to focus on the integration of Marine Highways into the Nation’s surface transportation system, providing seamless transition across all modes by leveraging marine services to complement landside surface transportation routes.”

What a great idea! But it can’t work. It can’t work because there are no ships small enough, fast enough, or efficient enough to make a profit for the ship owner. In the last two decades, about a dozen attempts have been made to tap into this highly desirable, extremely profitable, but agonizingly unattainable method of transporting goods between U.S. ports. All attempts have failed. The ships necessary for the success of short sea shipping just don’t exist. Yet.

These vessels exist on paper, however. Take a look at U.S. Patent Numbers 5,860,785 and 6,077,011. They describe a new type of container ship and a way of loading and offloading containers that, according to a prominent editor, “will revolutionize the world’s economy.”

This website, in fact, right on our Home page, shows the above-and-below deck operations of this patented system on a container ship.

Want more in formation? We’ve designed a fast and efficient vessel for short sea shipping operations, and we’ve designed a larger one for international operations. These designs can be had for the asking. These vessels will soon be under construction in Jones Act U.S. shipyards and will put Jones Act U.S. shipowners at “the head of the class” once again.

The U.S. Merchant Fleet will soon resume its position as the Gem of the Ocean.

And remember: “Whoever builds ships, builds worlds.”