Almost one hundred years ago, the U.S. Congress sought to enhance the nation’s ability to provide and maintain a Navy by passing the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act. The Jones Act places restrictions on what is called cabotage, the movement of goods between U.S. ports and on U.S. waterways. It mandates that only U.S. built and flagged vessels conduct this trade and that at least 75 percent of the crews of these ships be U.S. citizens. In addition, the Act restricts the foreign steel content of repair work on U.S. flag vessels, thereby restricting such activities to U.S. shipyards. The Jones Act’s goals are more important today than when it was promulgated. The maintenance of a fleet of U.S. flagged, active, commercially-viable, militarily-useful and privately-owned cargo vessels is vital to ensuring that the military can respond to any wartime need. In addition, the Jones Act helps to maintain a pool of U.S. merchant sailors who can be called upon to man government-owned sealift ships that are reactivated to support a wartime sealift effort. The Jones Act also is an important tool for homeland security, in particular by helping to secure the 25,000 miles of navigable inland waterways of the United States. I have written commentary on this topic for The National Interest here.
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