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Hawaii and Puerto Rico Jones Act Critics Say Same Thing About Federal Report

Prominent opponents of Federal ocean freight shipping requirements in Hawaii and Puerto Rico had the same criticism of the major Federal study of the application of the Jones Act to Puerto Rico shortly after it was released yesterday.

The Federal law requires that ocean cargo shipping between U.S. ports be on vessels that are U.S. built, owned, and registered, and primarily crewed by U.S. citizens.  The  Government Accountability Office (GAO), a non-partisan, objective, investigative arm of Congress, issued the report. Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, Pedro Pierluisi (statehood-D), who has seat in the U.S. House of Representatives but a vote only in its committees, proposed the study.

Hawaii Shippers Association President Michael Hansen was the first to react, writing that, “The report’s point of view is decidedly skewed to the domestic carriers and Jones Act shipping interests.”

A couple of hours after Hansen e-mailed his comments, Rafael Cox Alomar, the Puerto Rico “commonwealth” party’s 2012 resident commissioner candidate, said almost the same thing.  According to newspaper El Nuevo Dia, “Cox Alomar said the GAO’s  analysis only takes into account the position of the ship owners.”

Cox made Puerto Rico’s exemption from the Jones Act a major theme of his congressional campaign.  Hansen has worked with Puerto Rico Jones Act opponents and seen a Puerto Rico exemption from the law — or at least the U.S. built requirement — as a step towards an identical Hawaii exemption.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation has not supported Hansen’s proposals.

In releasing the study, Pierluisi said he would pursue two limited exemptions.  One would permit foreign ships to take liquid natural gas (LNG) and other fuels to the islands from the States.  The other would permit the foreign ship transportation of animal feed, grain, and fertilizer.  The GAO report noted Puerto Rican concerns about the shipping of these commodities.

A 1996 law already permits ships built abroad before October 19, 1996 to be used for LNG shipments from the States to Puerto Rico.

Cox, by contrast, said that “There must be a total repeal” of the application of the Jones Act to Puerto Rico.

But a representative of Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla — on whose ticket Cox ran — said the report was a step “in the right direction” and that the Governor would try to work with Pierluisi.

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