It was yet another sad story on the TV news last week, one of many. This one made me exclaim when I saw a graphic on the TV showing that the El Faro left Jacksonville, Florida for a routine trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Why? Because it was one of a small fleet compliant with the 1920 Jones Act. Although the Jones Act means nothing to you, it meant a lot to me. I’ll explain.
So why did the ship sink? Obviously, if you lose your ship’s engines in a hurricane you are in serious trouble. So the question is what possible reasons caused the ship to lose its engines. Age.
And that’s where the Jones Act comes in. A likely reason that the ship lost its engines and thirty three crew members may have died, in my opinion, is indirectly because of the Jones Act. You can read about it here on my former campaign site but I’ll explain.
In the early twentieth century a bill was proposed to protect the United States ship building industry. It was passed in 1920 as the Merchant Marine Act, known as the Jones Act. This law had four main provisions.
For a ship being able to transfer goods between U.S. ports they must be –
U.S. owned, 75% by U. S. citizens
U.S. crewed, 100% officers, 75% citizen crew, 25% U.S. resident aliens
The problem is that, over the years, the US shipbuilding business has died a slow death. Most of the container ships are now built in Asia and the remaining US built fleet is aging.
The Jones Act forces non-contiguous US regions to pay a heavy price for imported goods from the mainland. Shipping goods, including fuel using inefficient small barges, is at least nine times higher, per mile, than it costs to ship from Asia to California!
So how does this affect the sinking of the El Faro? The El Faro was forty years old and built by the Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Company in Philadelphia. Sun Shipbuilding went out of business in 1989. According to Wikipedia, the average age of container ships is under eleven years, the largest being over 1,200 feet long and nearly two hundred thousand tons.
The El Faro was a relatively tiny seven hundred and ninety one feet long ship and under thirty two thousand tons. Because of the Jones Act, I doubt that the ship could be replaced by a modern, more efficient vessel built in the US and because of the Jones Act, those ships must be built here.
Forty year old container ships are typically scrapped as they have worn out so it appears that the El Faro was on the edge of being logically scrapped. I suspect that as there are so few container ships built in the US anymore, since the Asian ships are larger, safer, more efficient and cheaper that they aren’t.
And as the Jones Act requires that the ships used between US ports must be built in the US, I suspect that these ships are used forever until the final breakdown.
Unfortunately, the intersection of Hurricane Joaquin and the El Faro’s final breakdown was the ship’s undoing and the death of its crew.
Shippers have no other choice to use an aging, inefficient fleet instead of modern, reliable ships as congress has refused to repeal the act. It’s great business for the companies that offer this freight service as it’s a oligopoly.
And as congress votes for bills that favor whomever gives them money for reelection, which must be from US sources, the Jones Act is here to stay. That’s unless repealed once word gets out of the likely root cause of this tragedy.
As an example of how money has
corrupted influenced our congress, if you visit the Federal Election Commission’s website, fec.gov, you can research how much money is given to and by Political Action Committees, PACs, to pay for or oppose legislation.
I researched one marine transportation company that benefits from the Jones Act. In the most recent yearly period, the FEC reported that it gave, through its PAC, over $46,000 to twenty five congressional candidates, including Marco Rubio, in twelve coastal states plus DC. It’s all perfectly legal, but the public has no idea how our congress is the best that money can buy.
So I blame our lazy, self-serving congress. Look into it, and you will have the same insight as to why.
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