Posted: May 16, 2016 6:43 PM

Jones Act Provides a Stable Hand in Ongoing Homeland Security Effort

By DAISY R. KHALIFA, Seapower Special Correspondent

Maritime and homeland security experts discussed the longstanding advantages of the Jones Act in the mission to protect the nation’s borders during a May 16 roundtable at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition.

Among the panelists were Paul N. “Chip” Jaenichen, administrator, U.S. Maritime Administration; Rear Adm. Mark E. Butt, assistant commandant for capability, U.S. Coast Guard; and J. Ryan Hutton, acting deputy executive director, Admissibility & Passenger Programs, Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The Jones Act — also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 — requires that all cargo shipped between U.S. domestic ports be carried on vessels that are U.S. built, owned, crewed and operated. Furthermore, the Jones Act serves as a cornerstone, through the Maritime Security Program, of the nation’s sealift and surge capability in times of conflict, providing vessels and crew, as needed, to bolster military requirements.

“The Maritime Administration’s broader mandate is to ensure that our nation has the capacity and capability to forward deploy our armed forces and to be able to sustain them once they arrive in theater,” Jaenichen said. “Not only is [our mission] about making sure there are enough mariners to be able to forward deploy our armed forces … 50 percent of our active mariner pool comes from the Jones Act coastwise trade. When it comes to national security, the Jones Act is an absolute cornerstone of the U.S. national strength of homeland security.”

In addition to the nation’s sealift readiness program, the Jones Act is considered an integral part of the nation’s border protection, Jaenichen said. He said with so much of the nation’s coastline and inland waterways exposed, it is crucial that the vessels and the crews that travel along and through them pose no threat. Jones Act crews protect against that particular vulnerability, he said.

“The Jones Act achieves a number of things,” he said. “Most obvious, it supports the robust shipbuilding industry along with the Merchant Marine, which are integral to being able to make sure that we have active support of every branch of our armed forces. Without the Jones Act currently in place, we would also be faced with the impossible prospect of [monitoring vessels] throughout our U.S. waterways.”

Hutton said CBP’s Office of Field Operations is responsible for “everyone and everything that enters the U.S.”  

He said 387 million people came through U.S. points of entry last year, and explained how the agency uses a “layered approach” in managing potential threats for meeting the extensive demands faced by CBP staff.

“The Jones Act is a huge part of that,” Hutton said. “If we allowed foreign-flag vessels, that would be one more operational level that we would have to address. If you eliminate the Jones Act, that would be a huge security role for us operationally. It is important for us and we look at the Jones Act as a force multiplier.”

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