The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (P.L. 66-261), also known as the Jones Act, is a United States federal statute that provides for the promotion and maintenance of the American merchant marine. Among other purposes, the law regulates maritime commerce in U.S. waters and between U.S. ports.
What started off as a good idea soon lead to a burden, as so many laws do. While the Jones Act is trying to lead to better organisation and better security for sailors, it also granted monopoly for US ship builders. The reason for this is that the law needs ships, shipping cargo between US harbors, need to comply to the Jones act.
Jones Act compliant ships must be:
manned by US citizens
Fly the US flag
Cheaper, bigger and probably higher quality Asian ships from Japan, Korea and China can thus only be used to deliver freigt into a US harbour before leaving to another country. This is already a high burden on the customer, as US ship cost 5 times as much as Asian ones, are less clean and there is no ability to build the as big as the Koreans can.
Increasing costs are crippling Hawaii, Guan, Alaska and Puerto Rico. While the US main land can rely on cargo trains and trucks to drive the missing miles, Hawaii needs to be supplied by ship from the main land. It could be supplied directly from asia, but the foreign ship would then be forbidden to continue to mainland US.
We recently attempted to order a cabinet from a Seattle furniture dealer, priced at $1,133.
Shipping in the contiguous states was $211, but to Hawaii the cost was $988, almost the cost of the item.
Although the cabinet was made in Taiwan, it could not be off-loaded in Hawaii but rather had to be shipped to the West Coast, then loaded onto an American ship for the costly backward journey to Hawaii.
Welcome to the 1920 Jones Act, which mandates that all goods — even from Asia — be shipped to the islands by expensive American-built, -owned, -flagged and -crewed ships.
So there are some numbers:
Taiwan -> Seattle $ 211
Taiwan -> Seattle -> Hawaii $ 988
Prices on Hawaii are up to 4x over average, and that for all imports. Over the years, the total Hawaii imports from the U.S. between 2014–2015 decreased by 29.5 %.
For Puerto Rico it doesn’t look better.
A non-state offshore harbour in the international waters at Hawaii could be a solution.
First use in front of Hawaii would be attractive because it would enable a big shipping route: the ships travel over the north Pacific to the US, and back over Hawaii and Guam to Asia.
With increasing traffic, a permanent floating harbour can be build that can be expanded continuously to fit the demand. The knowledge gained can then be used to build offshore harbours all over the world.
After this trial, it could be applied to Alaska, Guam, Puerto Rico and even in front of the US coast. Maybe even in front of other countries, if the concept of a offshore drop off point would make it more efficient for ships to deliver cargo.
Since a ship gets more efficient with the size, an offshore harbour network would enable enormous ships driving only on the pacific.
After seeing a lot of projects intruducing all different kinds of seasteading, one question stayed:
"Why would somebody live there?"
Maybe we are still lucky that political reasons are not still good enough for such an endevour, but this also means that it has to get much worse before such a project is started. In that case it could already be too late.
But if people can earn money with seasteading, than it will be build way faster. Humans need an incentive to live in a hostile environment, then they find out how it can be done, not the other way round. This is why there are people living in the Antarctic, lower orbit, deserts and a lot already at sea.
To build a city on the sea, you need to have a reason for a whole city to move there. The opportunities opened up by the Jones Act could be such a reason.
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