Here we go again. Detractors of the Jones Act are having a field day as the media puts out stories about Puerto Rico running short of diesel. Here’s an example from Bloomberg:
Under the headline “Jones Act Limbo Keeps U.S. Fuel at Bay as Puerto Rico Seeks Relief,” the article starts: “European fuel is coming to the aid of hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, while a tanker carrying U.S. diesel waits offshore, unable to deliver its cargo due to a century-old maritime law. …”
The ship in question is the Marshall Islands flagged GH Parks, a 50,000 dwt tanker of obscure beneficial ownership, managed by Synergy Maritime. Apparently Puerto Rico fuel distributor Peerless made a request for the fuel now on board the vessel to its supplier, BP. Luis Vázquez, general manager of Peerless, told El Nuevo Dia that BP “made the necessary procedures (presumably meaning a Jones Act waiver request) with DHS. Since then the Governor of Puerto has also reportedly made a waiver request to DHS.
Unfortunately for fact checkers, the DHS either does not publish data on current Jones Act waiver requests or hides it some place it cannot be found.
The real issue here is whether Puerto Rico really risks the lights going out without the fuel on the GH Parks.
“American maritime has been meeting and exceeding the needs of Puerto Rican residents in the wake of Hurricane Fiona and there continues to be absolutely no justification for a waiver of the Jones Act, as the U.S. Coast Guard, FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Department of Energy all have made clear that the supply of fuel to the Island is not an issue,” says Ku’uhaku Park, President of the American Maritime Partnership
AMP quotes Jenniffer González Colón, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico as stating: “At each and every meeting, I have been assured by federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, FEMA, and the Corps of Engineers that there is an adequate supply of fuel on the Island that is available to consumers and that subsequent delivery is planned of more fuel in the short, medium and long term.”
AMP says that, as in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, any delay in receiving needed cargoes due to Hurricane Fiona are not because the goods are not getting to the ports. Sources in Puerto Rico have confirmed that, while the maritime supply chain is steady, the land side transportation on the island itself has been slower to react.
Foreign vessels transporting cargo between two U.S. ports must follow U.S. law. Nothing prevents a foreign vessel from a foreign origin from shipping to and from Puerto Rico. Regular deliveries of diesel are continuing from legal foreign imports and from service from American maritime carriers.
On September 26, a domestic operator delivered fuel near Aguirre and then in Guayanilla to help provide diesel on the island. More deliveries, both foreign and U.S.-sourced, are scheduled to be delivered this week.
Regular supply chain deliveries of fuel are done in a manner that maximizes efficiency and swift delivery and offloading. The deliveries are timed to ensure there is adequate storage capacity for offloaded fuel when a vessel arrives.
Delivering fuel by an unexpected foreign vessel to take advantage of recovery from a natural disaster would require those vessels to anchor off the port for days at a time and could disrupt regular operations.