Monday, 23 May 2011

Time To Repeal The Jones Act

World of Cruising editor Simon Veness writes:

A story on loss of business at the port of Los Angeles today started me thinking - if this huge sea-going destination on the US West Coast is struggling to stay busy, isn't it time to look at the root cause why?

Because it seems increasingly clear that the archaic Jones Act of 1920 is now a serious millstone around the necks of the US cruise industry, and something urgently needs to be done about, for the sake of the cruise lines AND their passengers.

The Jones Act was originally designed to prevent unfair foreign-flagged competition for ships carrying the stars and stripes by insisting that only US-flagged vessels can operate solely in US waters (i.e. without having to visit a foreign port).

This was vital for the 1920s and 30s when American vessels were commonplace, and even has relevance today in the sections of the Act that relate to accident and disability benefits for America seamen.

But what it is also doing is squeezing business away from US ports; making it hard for cruise lines to put together some really meaningful itineraries; and making passengers pay more in various places. It is so anti-competitive to the cruise business it beggars belief.

And, at a time when the cruise liens are shying away from Mexican ports over safety concerns, it means places like Los Angeles will find themselves increasingly out in the cold.

Put simply, the Jones Act forbids foreign-flagged cruise lines (i.e. all of them these days!) from having itineraries that visit just US ports, hence it stops round-Hawaii cruises (requiring ships make a long haul to add Mexico or a South Pacific port to their route), West Coast voyaging, and trips that take in purely the eastern seaboard.

These are areas all rich in cruise possibility, yet they are denied to the cruise lines and their passengers by an Act that could never possibly foresee a situation where American lines (i.e. nearly all of them!) have foreign-flagged ships that are prevented from offering all-American cruises.

It is so patently daft in this day and age - and so dangerous for US interests and jobs, as evidenced by Los Angeles - that you have to wonder why something isn't being done about it. Does the industry not have an effective polotical lobby? Are there other interests working against them (hard to imagine, but possible)? Are people asleep at the wheel over the possibilities?

It is an issue that demands attention in the cruise world of today - and I'll be very keen to see if anyone picks up the cry on cruising's behalf. Because there are great possibilities going begging here.

I'd love to see a cruise that takes in purely the Carolinas and Florida; New England; California; or Hawaii (apart from the one exception of NCL's lone American-flagged ship).

And it's about time others did, too.