The Contribution of the Jones Act to U.S. Security
by David Gouré
The United States has always had a special relationship to water. It is a nation founded from the sea. Its interior was explored and linked to the sea via mighty rivers and waterways that penetrate deep into the continent’s interior. Seaborne commerce drove the American economy for two centuries; even today that economy is dependent on the sea to carry virtually all the $3.5 trillion in international trade generated annually. Millions of Americans have made their livings from the seas and national waterways. The security of the seas, part of the global commons, has been a central theme of this country’s military strategy since the days of the Barbary pirates.
From Athens and Rome to Great Britain and the United States, the great seafaring nations have built strong maritime industries, merchant marines and navies. These three components of seapower are interrelated. A maritime industry is vital to the ability to build ships, including naval vessels. The merchant marine is what carries goods to and from this country in both peace and war. A strong Navy secures the oceans for U.S. seaborne trade and access but is dependent on the industrial base to produce new vessels and repair existing ones.
The importance of a national maritime industry and merchant marine was recognized in law as far back as 1920 when Congress passed Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act, also known as the “Jones Act.” Only vessels conforming to the provisions of the Jones Act are permitted to carry passengers or cargo between two U.S. ports, a process also termed “cabotage.” All officers and 75 percent of the crews of vessels engaged in cabotage must be U.S. citizens, with the remainder being citizens or lawfully admitted aliens. These vessels must be built in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and flagged or operated under the laws of the United States. Read More