Ship hunts foreign ships doing work reserved for US crew

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Offshore energy service companies are out to find foreign-flagged ships hauling pipeline parts and other energy-related equipment from United States (US) ports and delivering or installing them in US waters.

The Offshore Marine Service Association has launched a ship to gather photos and videos of ships it considers to be violating a 1920 law requiring US vessels to carry cargo between US locations. It will provide such evidence to US Customs and Border Protection, which enforces the law, and to trade publications, said Association President and CEO Aaron Smith.

He said the Jones Act Enforcer, named after the law, will operate both in the Gulf of Mexico and in wind fields off the East Coast.

US Customs and Border Protection declined to comment.

“I am absolutely delighted,” said US Representative John Garamendi, a California Democrat who pushed for an amendment to a law covering the outer continental shelf — the land beneath federal offshore waters — to state that several laws including the Jones Act apply there.

The Jones Act Enforcer in Leeville, Louisiana. PHOTO: AP

He said he proposed his amendment, which is now law, in part because although it was clear that the Jones Act covered offshore oil and gas, it wasn’t clear that it covered the wind industry.

A bill to repeal the Jones Act as a protectionist law that drives up prices is before the Senate Commerce Committee. Such proposals have been made frequently over the past decade but generally haven’t made it out of committee, Garamendi said. Offshore platforms and turbines and everything connected to them should be taken from US ports and delivered or installed by US crew on vessels built and owned in this country, Smith said.

“Many times, foreign vessels take each of those assets from port and then install them,” he said.

His group’s 140-plus members include about 60 owners and operators of vessels that carry people, material and supplies to and from offshore rigs and platforms.

Garamendi said the US Customs and Border Patrol has “been a problem for years”, by approving dozens of Jones Act loopholes.

“They basically were in the hands of the international companies and would routinely write exemption orders,” he said.

The association has challenged those loopholes in lawsuits and by lobbying members of Congress.