Much like motor vehicles are regulated by state and federal laws, vessels traveling at sea are also regulated. Arguably, those transporting goods face more regulations, causing some to argue that changes should be made to benefit Alaska and other states home to major ports. Specifically, The Jones Act impacts cruise lines, thus impacting cruise passengers and the revenue tourism can bring to locations in Alaska and other states.
Understanding the Jones Act
In simple terms, the Jones Act regulates maritime commerce, specifically, those occurring in U.S. waters and between U.S. ports. The Jones Act addresses coastwise trade, requiring that all goods transported via water between U.S. ports to be carried on a vessel that was constructed in the United States, flies the U.S. flag, is owned by U.S. citizens and has a crew of U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents
Because of the specifics mentioned above, the Jones Act prevents ships flying foreign flags from carrying goods between the contiguous states of the United States and certain noncontiguous parts, including Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
In other words, foreign vessels that are headed inbound with goods cannot stop at the four noncontiguous locations, offload their goods, load contiguous-bound goods and continue to a contiguous U.S. port. They can, however, offload cargo and proceed to a contiguous U.S. port as long as cargo intended for delivery to another U.S. location is not picked up.
Impact on cruise lines and Alaska
A corollary of the Jones Act is the Passenger Vessels Service Act or PVSA. The PVSA specifically prohibits the transportation of passengers between U.S. ports of any vessel that doesn’t fly a U.S. flag and meets all of the requirements for U.S. coastwise transportation. This means that if a cruise ship was not built in the United States, is U.S. owned, and has a U.S. crew cannot travel between U.S. ports unless they first stop at a foreign port.
As such, a foreign cruise ship leaving a contiguous U.S. port cannot stop in Alaska unless it first makes a stop in Canada. This creates challenges for cruise itineraries and the tourism in Alaska. Thus, attempts to make an exemption for Alaska has been sought.
Matters involving the Jones Act can be complex. This makes it important to gain a full picture of the issue at hand and what legal rights, options and even recourses you have.