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Hawaii lawmakers seek exemption from maritime shipping law


LIHUE >> Hawaii lawmakers again are urging the federal government to exempt the islands, along with Alaska, Puerto Rico and Guam, from a provision in a maritime law that is designed to protect the U.S. shipping industry but that some blame for steep shipping costs in markets outside the mainland.

Hawaii state Sen. Samuel Slom and Rep. Sam Kong have introduced resolutions asking Congress for the exemption, the Garden Island reported.

A section of the Jones Act of 1920 requires ships that move cargo between two American ports be built in the United States, and manned and primarily owned by U.S. citizens. Lawmakers want to waive the requirement that the vessels be built domestically, an exemption they have sought in the past.

In a news release, Hawaii lawmakers noted the provision’s “restrictive impact on the market for shipping goods to Hawaii.”

“The Jones Act was originally meant to protect the shipping industry and maritime trade, but almost a century has gone by and it’s easy to see that the law does not serve its original purpose,” Slom said in the release issued Tuesday. “Today, the effect of the Jones Act is that people in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Guam pay significantly more than the rest of the country for everyday necessities.”

After lawmakers made a similar push last year, the American Maritime Partnership, a coalition that represents vessel owners and operators, unions, equipment yards and vendors, said the Jones Act is critical for economic and security reasons.

U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona had introduced legislation to repeal the domestic-building provision of the law. It was intended to be added as a rider to legislation vetoed Tuesday by President Barack Obama that would have forced construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The rider and other unrelated amendments never made it into the Keystone legislation, according to Hawaii Shippers’ Council president Michael Hansen, who praised the efforts of Hawaii lawmakers to support merchants that ship cargo.

“We are interested in a competitive environment among the ocean carriers that provides good service levels at a reasonable freight cost,” Hansen said.

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