The Jones Act

Canada recently announced that it would extend the closure of it’s borders to cruise ships from July 1st through October 31st. This effectively stopped even the hope of cruises going to Alaska as well as Canada/New England for the remainder of the year – even if Alaska, Massachusetts, and Maine opened up these cruises still couldn’t sail. Why is that? Is it just because we love our neighbors to the north so much? Well, while we do love them a whole bunch, it’s actually because of something called The Jones Act.

The Jones Act is technically Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 and “requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents.” (Thank you Wikipedia) It’s intention was to promote the US maritime industry as it prevents non-US ships from running commercial shipping lines up and down the coasts of the United States.

To simplify, it means that a ship that is not flagged in the United States cannot transport goods or people directly between US ports. For cruising this means that if where you start and end the cruise is a US port the vessel will need to stop at a non-US port before completing its voyage.

This definitely creates some challenges for modern cruising. It might be nice to say, “we’ll build our ships in the US” but in a global work environment it is very limiting to say that it can only have US crew onboard. In terms of cruising it technically would give cruise ships that are US flagged the advantage of being able to sail between US ports without a foreign call, but needless to say, to date it hasn’t been enough of an advantage for anyone to put the effort into getting their ships flagged in the US. The exception to this is Norwegian Cruise Lines Pride of America.

You may have noticed if you look up cruises going to Hawaii that nearly all of them have to cross from North America instead of simply sailing around the islands. Most are either roundtrip out of a Californian city (San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles) with a stop in Ensenada, Mexico, or roundtrip from Seattle with a stop in Victoria, B.C., or roundtrip from Vancouver, Canada. This is all because of the Jones Act and why Norwegian Cruise Line decided to build the Pride of America. By having a US flagged ship they can cruise around the Hawaiian islands without having to spend the 4 days going across the ocean to inevitably either stop in Mexico or Canada.

The same challenges exist with Alaskan cruises. For example, an Alaska cruise that operates roundtrip from Seattle will always have a stop in Victoria, B.C. Technically that stop could be in Vancouver, but just as I have never seen Victoria used as a homeport, I’ve never seen Vancouver used as the Canadian port to appease the Jones Act on a Seattle based cruise. It just doesn’t happen. This is why you will not find cruises that start in Seattle and end in Anchorage, Whittier, or Seward for instance – the ship would be technically be transporting people between US ports without a foreign port of call and thus would not satisfy the requirements of the Jones Act. However, either start or end the cruise in Vancouver and you’re covered.

Now, I realize it wasn’t very likely that cruising would start before the end of the Alaska season this year anyways considering the current situation, but it’s still interesting how so many things can affect different industries.

Another area that this impact is the Canada/New England cruise. However, as Canada is quite imperative to that it’s less surprising that Canada closing it’s borders had a negative impact on that. It does however prevent options for ships to do coastal cruising – from say Boston to Fort Lauderdale and back.

I don’t know enough about the financial side of the maritime industry as a whole to say whether or not this Act is overall helping the US or hurting it. But, it is something we’ve got to work with. The plus side is we get to spend a bit more time with our friends to the north, and really, who doesn’t love Victoria and Vancouver?

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