Maritime Law Jones Act and what does it imply?

The Jones Act

The Jones Act is a name used to refer to a United States Federal Statute which regulates maritime commerce in U.S. waters and reflects on maritime law doctrines. This is a cabotage act which enshrines in law a form of protectionism ensuring that U.S. business is favoured in maritime matters, and at the same time contains certain elements in respect of seaman’s rights. It dictates that

  • carriage of cargo between U.S. ports must be ring-fenced for solely U.S. built and registered vessels.
  • At least 75% of crew members must be U.S. citizens, and
  • repair work on a vessel must be carried out using 90% American steel.

This is to stop U.S. ship owners from having repairs carried out abroad.

Merchant Marine Act

The Jones Act, or Merchant Marine Act (there are two other legislative acts enshrined in the U.S. constitution by the name of Jones Act, so the secondary name is often used) was adopted by Congress in 1920 and was recently formally codified, in October 2006, formalizing the rights of U.S. seamen. It allows injured sailors to claim damages from their employers where injury is caused by negligence (whether this be the negligence of the ship’s owner, captain or individual crew members) or unseaworthiness, which is where the act differs from international maritime law as enshrined in the UNCLOS.

Pros & Cons

The detractors of the Jones Act argue that it drives up costs for the transport of cargo between U.S. ports as the restrictions result in higher costs for ship owners and also because of the resultant lack of market competition. As a consequence, it is felt, the U.S. shipbuilding industry has suffered. Ancient ships are kept at sea because replacing them is expensive, and American shipyards have priced themselves out of the market for international contracts due to the expense of maintaining an all-American workforce. Only 1% of the world’s large commercial ships are built in U.S. shipyards.

The supporters of the Act, in response, state that it benefits the U.S. economically and in wartime. It enables the US, they say, to safeguard the nation’s ability to produce commercial ships and maintain a workforce of trained merchant naval officers. It also guarantees a level of quality and comfort on board the ship that cannot be guaranteed, they say, on foreign builds. Furthermore, they say, allowing foreign-flagged ships to make commercial trips using American sea lanes would give them an advantage due to their not having to live up to the same standards as U.S.-registered crafts.

Infact as you can see for yourself after reading the above arguments both in favour of, and against, the Merchant Marine Act that both sides of the coin have a strong case. Yet the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and hence the reason of continuation of the Act