US denies shipping waiver for Puerto Rico hurricane relief efforts

WASHINGTON (AP/WSVN) — The Trump administration says it is not planning to waive federal restrictions on foreign ships’ transportation of cargo to Puerto Rico and other areas affected by Hurricane Maria, as it did following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security says officials believe there is sufficient capacity of U.S.-flagged vessels to move goods to Puerto Rico. Spokesman David Lapan said most of the humanitarian shipments to Puerto Rico will be through barges, which make up a significant portion of the U.S.-flagged cargo fleet.

Some members of Congress, including Sen. John McCain and New York Rep Nydia Velazquez have asked for a Jones Act waiver for Maria.

The Jones Act requires that all goods shipped between waterborne ports of the United States must be carried by vessels built in the United States and owned and operated by Americans. As a result, McCain said that “shipping costs from the United States mainland have been estimated to be twice as much as from neighboring foreign islands.”

In letter sent to the Department of Homeland Security, McCain wrote that the Jones Act prevents Puerto Rico from rapid recovery.

“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster,” McCain wrote.

DHS waived Jones Act restrictions during Harvey and Irma in order to move oil more quickly to the East Coast and make up for the loss of pipelines. However, according to Reuters, the DHS did not agree an exemption would help this time.

McCain has been working since 2010 to reform and repeal the Jones Act, with the most recent attempt being in July.