Promoting the Jones Act is one of the primary purposes of OMSA. As part of this mission, OMSA has been working to improve the enforcement of the Act. This page provides background on this issue and what OMSA is doing to ensure they law is enforced and our nation and our mariners are protected.
Between 1976 and 2009, (see a timeline here) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) created numerous non-statutory loopholes to the Jones Act, call letter rulings (see more about letter rulings here). 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.
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. 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 including the transportation of merchandise between two U.S. points, in direct contravention to the text of the Jones Act.
These new loopholes are not only legally dubious, they are also unnecessary. In 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation creating a transparent, predictable, and safe way for foreign vessels to conduct limited transportation when it was proven that a U.S. vessel was not available to conduct the operation.
For this reason, more than 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate weighed in opposition to any Administration action which would weaken the enforcement of the Jones Act. OMSA also testified before a U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee about the changes and the importance of fully enforcing the Jones Act.
OMSA will continue to work to ensure the Jones Act is fully enforced and foreign vessels are not allowed to transport merchandise between U.S. points.