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Lawmakers Seek Waiver of Law Barring Foreign Ships From Delivering Aid to Puerto Rico

Updated Sept. 27, 2017 1:32 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Lawmakers are calling at the Trump management to allow foreign-flagged vessels to send aid provides from U.S. ports to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, asking the Department of Homeland Security to waive a legislation they are saying will burden the help effort and build up the associated fee of essential provides to islanders.

The 1920 Jones Act, considered one of the cornerstones of U.S. maritime coverage, calls for that items shipped between U.S. ports be carried by way of vessels constructed within the U.S., majority-owned by way of American companies and crewed by way of U.S. electorate. The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t waived the act for Puerto Rico, which used to be devastated by way of Hurricane Maria remaining week.

The Category four hurricane destroyed the island’s electric grid and left it desperately brief of meals, blank water and gasoline.

“Based on consultation with other Federal agencies, DHS’s current assessment is that there is sufficient numbers of U.S.-flagged vessels to move commodities to Puerto Rico,” spokesman

David Lapan

wrote in an electronic mail.

President Donald Trump instructed journalists Wednesday he used to be bearing in mind waiving the act however hesitated as a result of “a lot of people that work in the shipping industry… don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

He added: “We have a lot of ships out there right now.”

Meanwhile, two main transport companies serving Puerto Rico have stated items delivered to San Juan’s port were stranded due to an absence of diesel gasoline for vans and harm to the island’s highway community.

“That part of logistics from our terminal, that supply chain has been interrupted,” stated

Jose Ayala,

vp of Puerto Rico Services for Crowley Maritime Inc., a Jacksonville, Fla.-based send operator. “The biggest challenge is how you can move the cargo. The cargo is here.”

Michael Roberts,

senior vp and basic recommend at Crowley, which advantages from Jones Act protections, stated there’s “a very steady pipeline of relief goods that is in process now and adding foreign-flag capacity and taking out U.S. mariners who are doing this work would not help at all.”

Jones Act waivers “would take American first responders out of the loop and replace them with Filipino or Russian or Chinese crews,” he stated. “Doing that at a time when many U.S. mariners in this region have had their homes damaged, their lives uprooted and now they need to work, to take that away is not something you want to do.”

The Jones Act has been suspended in previous herbal screw ups to permit inexpensive, foreign-flagged ships herald assist. President

George W. Bush

suspended it after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and President

Barack Obama

suspended it after superstorm Sandy in 2012.

In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, Sen.

John McCain

(R, Ariz.) criticized the dep. for waiving the Jones Act within the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma and no longer for Puerto Rico. Mr. McCain has lengthy sought a repeal of the Jones Act.

“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,” Mr. McCain wrote within the letter despatched Tuesday night time. “Now, more than ever, it is time to realize the devastating effect of this policy and implement a full repeal of this archaic and burdensome Act.”

Seven House Democrats, led by way of Rep.

Nydia M. Velázquez

of New York, additionally despatched a letter to appearing DHS Secretary

Elaine Duke

on Tuesday urging a waiver and inquiring for Puerto Rico be exempted from necessities that native sources fit federal price range expended by way of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“In their hour of need, Washington can help by suspending the Jones Act and suspending cost-sharing obligations,” the House Democrats wrote. “Puerto Rico was closing schools and hospitals and laying off cops before the two hurricanes hit this month, so Washington should go these extra steps.”

Crowley Maritime and TOTE Maritime, U.S.-based ocean carriers which can be the principle operators serving Puerto Rico, in combination have introduced in more or less 6,000 transport packing containers, most commonly full of aid provides, for the reason that San Juan port reopened on Saturday.

Mr. Ayala stated in a phone interview that the ships have introduced in medication, meals, water, building fabrics, tarps for transient shelters, turbines and gasoline.

“It’s pretty ugly out there,” he stated. “There is damage to the trucking infrastructure, to the distributors, to the supermarkets, to the roads. And then, if your infrastructure is not so damaged, and you can get a driver to the truck, there is no fuel to move the equipment.”

A senior DHS legit stated Wednesday the Jones Act doesn’t allow the dep. to grant waivers merely to push down prices. Waivers as an alternative will have to be in line with whether or not sufficient U.S. ships are to be had to accommodate transport wishes. Only the Department of Defense would possibly download a Jones Act waiver routinely, which it did to transfer petroleum merchandise from Texas after Hurricane Harvey.

Mr. Lapan wrote that the waiver used to be wanted in Florida and Texas since the loss of oil refineries and the shutdown of the main pipeline to transfer subtle gasoline to the East Coast and Southeast larger call for for vessels. In Puerto Rico, the desire is other.

“The fuel supply challenges facing Puerto Rico are not a function of the lack of fuel being shipped to the island, but caused by the devastation to Puerto Rico’s transportation networks that have prevented fuel from being transported on the island to all of the places that need it,” Mr. Lapan wrote.

The White House is anticipated to ship Congress a request for a investment package deal for Puerto Rico in the following few weeks, a senior congressional aide stated. The aide stated that Puerto Rico would possibly get right of entry to the $15.25 billion appropriated previous this month after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma struck Texas and Florida.

—Rebecca Ballhaus contributed to this text.

Write to Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com and Paul Page at paul.web page@wsj.com

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