According to Todd Hornbeck, CEO of Hornbeck Offshore, U.S. Cabotage Law, specifically The Jones Act, is not a factor in restricting the use of foreign flagged vessels in the Gulf of Mexico clean-up effort. He says there are 45 or more foreign flagged skimming vessels currently in operation. The Offshore Marine Services Association (OMSA), a marine service business advocacy organization, supports this assertion. However, these comments are coming from people who are staunch supporters, as I am, of the Jones Act. But unlike me, they have a hell of a lot to gain by proving to the public that the Jones Act is not a hindrance to the clean-up effort.
What Todd Hornbeck said on Fox News is true: The Jones Act does not prohibit a foreign vessel from cleaning up oil at sea, even on waters over the U.S. continental shelf. But it does stop that vessel from bringing a product to multiple ports in the U.S., and it may prohibit the vessel from making multiple stops at multiple U.S. ports during the course of operations.
The Jones Act doesn't specifically prohibit a foreign vessel from recovering the oil/water mix at sea, but it prohibits the vessel from entering U.S. ports once its hold is full. So where does the ship go to unload its cargo? Who will pay the crew and the ship owners? The Jones Act prohibits U.S. companies and/or the U.S Government from paying foreign vessels and foreign crews for work in U.S. waters. So, yeah, the vessels can clean-up oil, as long as they do it just once and head back to their home ports. And as long as they don't expect to get paid.
This is a national emergency calling for a temporary suspension of the Jones Act, as President Bush enacted after Hurricane Katrina. President Obama needs to announce a temporary suspension now. A temporary suspension will not weaken the power of the Jones Act and will not threaten the livelihoods of American workers and businesses. It's just plain stupid for vessels like the Super Skimmer A Whale to have to wait and apply for a waiver or exemption. And it's equally stupid to think that a temporary suspension will have anything other than a positive effect on the overall spill response effort.
Had the President announced a suspension of the Jones Act two months ago, it's conceivable that foreign owners of specialized foreign vessels would have sent their fleets into the Gulf while the oil was still at sea.