Why was the Jones Act such a big deal in Puerto Rico?

A container ship is seen docked at the port of San Juan as people deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
A container ship is seen docked at the port of San Juan as people deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Getty Images

In the aftermath of two major hurricanes, Puerto Rico is reeling. There are many of us here in South Florida that have family or friends and other deep connections with that special island. Many roads are still impassable.

Private citizens, churches, businesses and government agencies such as FEMA here in the continental United States have sourced and delivered huge amounts of relief supplies. All these American-sourced supplies, as well as the usual day-to-day shipments of goods from the United States, are delivered on U.S. built ships, vessels that are manned by American mariners, many of whom call Florida or Puerto Rico home.

The Jones Act ensured this link existed and US maritime was ready to answer the call. These ships and their sailors make up a vital and extremely efficient, dedicated link between the U.S. main land and Puerto Rico.

Since Hurricane Maria passed and the U.S. Coast Guard re-opened the port of San Juan, U.S. sailors working aboard U.S. built ships and barges delivered more than 11,000 containers directly into the heart of San Juan, the equivalent of hundreds of millions pounds of food, water, medicine, tarps, plywood, diapers and equipment, including generator sets.

Sadly, while our sailors, crews and port teams were loading and unloading more vessels and supplies to aid our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, familiar opponents of the domestic maritime industry took aim at our work.

Those same people suggest our vessels and the hardworking men and women of the maritime industry are not up to the task of moving critical cargos to keep up with the rate of need. This could not have been farther from the truth.

As many have learned through the media, our industry had already been working hand in glove with our partners at the FEMA and the federal government to ensure goods were delivered to the island.

While bottlenecks on roads and other logistical challenges occurred in the beginning days — like they do in any natural disaster — we continued our mission.

You see, relief supplies made it to San Juan in huge volumes, in rapid time, because of the Jones Act, and even more supplies are coming.

While often scapegoated, the Jones Act provides reliable service and does not restrict goods coming from other countries. Puerto Rico receives supplies daily from other countries.

Important supplies for Puerto Rico are not trapped in the continental U.S., they are available right in the middle of San Juan, waiting to leave the port for their final distribution points and our industry is working tirelessly with our partners like FEMA to ensure that happens.

The island is struggling, with so many people dislocated and managing their own dire situation. We are dedicated to helping provide relief, and dedicated to helping rebuild.

What Puerto Rico needs is not finger pointing and scapegoating — what Puerto Rico needs is for us to come together as a country, focus on all available solutions including utilizing the many specialized fast and shallow draft American vessels available to enhance the relief effort, and support FEMA, the U.S. military, aid organizations and other federal and local government agencies in their missions.

Those in the domestic maritime industry will continue to do our part — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — until Puerto Rico is back on its feet.

Daniel Thorogood is a South Florida based shipping executive and chairman of TrailerBridge, Inc.