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Puerto Rico Calls for Jones Act Waiver for a Tanker of Texas Diesel

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Published Sep 27, 2022 3:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

A foreign-flagged product tanker laden with 300,000 barrels of American-origin fuel has been idling off the coast of Ponce, Puerto Rico, and the island's government would like it to berth and unload. However, this would violate the Jones Act's requirements for maritime transport on domestic cargo routes. The case brings new specificity to a fierce debate over the Act's merits for Puerto Rico. 

Joel Piza, the head of the island's port authority, told TV channel TeleOnce that the agency had only learned about the vessel when it arrived at 1700 hours Sunday. The Coast Guard did not have advance notice either, he suggested. 

"In essence, it would be characterized as irresponsible to send the ship like this," he told the outlet.

The importer, Peerless Oil, told TeleOnce that the request to bring in the ship was made six days in advance, and that the firm had provided notice to the governor's office. The company reported that it was necessary because of a supply shortage. 

The island territory's governor has appealed to Secretary of Transportation Alejandro Mayorkas for help with this specific vessel in light of the island's post-hurricane challenges. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi told local paper El Vocero that he was confident that the federal government would help find a solution, though the Biden administration has not yet signaled whether it would grant a waiver in this case. The waiver process typically requires advance proof that a Jones Act vessel was not available to load and deliver the cargo; in this case, the cargo is loaded and all but delivered.

The tank vessel can be identified as the 50,000 dwt product tanker GH Parks. The Parks called in Texas City, Texas on September 16, then got under way for the Florida Straits on a voyage to Europe. On the 22nd, after passing through the Bahamas, she diverted to the southeast and made for Puerto Rico, arriving off Ponce on the 25th. 

In a statement, the American Maritime Partnership pushed back on claims that the cargo of fuel was needed and described the shipment as opportunistic. 

"The U.S. Coast Guard, FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Department of Energy all have made clear that the supply of fuel to the Island is not an issue. This stunt by a foreign oil company showing up unannounced in Puerto Rico while on its way overseas hoping to sell its fuel at a premium to Puerto Ricans in need, and thereby triggering a public and political rush to judgment, is bad precedent, a circumvention of U.S. law, and should never be tolerated," said Ku’uhaku Park, President of the American Maritime Partnership.