Jones Act Eases Border Control Challenges

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By MarEx 2016-06-27 02:12:23

The Lexington Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank, has released a study stressing the critical role that the American maritime industry and the Jones Act play in strengthening U.S. border security and helping to prevent international terrorism.

The study notes that since 9/11, the Jones Act has taken on new significance for national security, with the law playing a critical role in helping to secure the homeland from the threat of international terrorism.

Were the Jones Act not in existence, the Department of Homeland Security would be confronted by the difficult and costly requirement of monitoring, regulating and overseeing foreign-controlled, foreign crewed vessels in coastal and internal U.S. waters, states the study.

The current debate of enhancing U.S. border security has focused almost exclusively on illegal movement of people and drugs into the southern United States from Mexico. Yet, the southern land border is actually the smallest at 1,989 miles. The U.S. border with Canada is almost three times longer at 5,525 miles.

The country’s land borders taken together are dwarfed by the 95,000 miles of national shoreline. This includes the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts as well as the Great Lakes separating the United States from Canada. Along this shoreline are many of America’s greatest cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, Savannah, Miami and Tampa. Virtually all of these are associated with ports through which annually pass millions of cargo containers and hundreds of thousands of passengers.

The study highlights the “impossible task” of guarding the U.S. against threats from foreign ships and foreign crews operating in the heartland of the U.S., a nation of rivers as well as the world’s preeminent maritime power. 

For example, a ship entering the homeland through a coastal port such as New Orleans will have access to the deep interior. The inland waterways of the U.S. encompass over 25,000 miles of navigable waters, including the Intracoastal Waterway, a 3,000-mile highway that traverses the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. This liquid highway touches most of America’s major Eastern and Gulf Coast cities including Washington DC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans and Mobile. Inland and intracoastal waterways directly serve 38 states from the nation’s heartland to the Atlantic seaboard, Gulf Coast and Pacific Northwest.

“The prospect of terrorists on the inland waterways system is a particularly daunting challenge to homeland security. Via the inland waterways, a terrorist could reach America’s heartland and many of its largest and most important urban centers. [These waterways] carry an enormous weight of the nation’s internal commerce.  ... Guarding every potential target along the inland waterways against terrorist attack is an impossible task.”

In addition, the study reinforces the importance of skilled American mariners to protect the U.S. marine transportation system, which encompasses 361 ports, over 3,000 facilities and more than 14,000 regulated domestic vessels. The requirement that all the officers and fully 75 percent of the crews of vessels be U.S. citizens goes a long way to reducing the risk that terrorists could get onboard or execute an attack on a U.S. target.

The study also notes the continued importance of a U.S. shipbuilding, maintenance and repair industrial base to U.S. national defense.

The study is available here.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.