Patterico's Pontifications


Oil Skimmers and the Jones Act

Filed under: Obama — DRJ @ 12:59 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

According to the Maritime Executive Magazine, the Administration says no oil skimming vessels have been turned away and no Jones Act waivers are needed to skim more than 3 miles offshore:


The National Incident Command (NIC) says there has been “no case” where an offer of foreign assistance has been declined because of the Jones Act. In fact, the U.S. State Department has said that “[a] number of offers of assistance have been accepted,” including Mexican skimmers, Norwegian skimming systems and other assets from Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands. The Jones Act does not even apply to skimming operations outside of 3 miles from shore. Oil skimming outside 3 miles, including near the well 50 miles from shore that is the source of the leak, is completely open to foreign oil spill response vessels. That is where the vast majority of skimming has occurred so far.

The Jones Act also can be waived on a case-by-case basis if there is a need but no American vessel is available to meet that need. That waiver process is always quick but it has been streamlined even further by Admiral Thad Allen and the NIC since the spill to deal with any waiver requests. Additionally, on June 16, 2010, the Coast Guard Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the oil spill determined that there is an insufficient number of specialized oil skimming vessels in the U.S. to respond to this spill. This determination allows foreign specialized skimming vessels to be deployed within 3 miles of the shore if the foreign country provides the same privileges to American skimming vessels in that country’s waters.

Interesting. So there aren’t enough oil skimmers available after all, and either America is playing tit-for-tat with our allies’ offers of assistance or the law provides for joint waivers of mutual assistance. If we don’t have enough of certain types, why not open the field to all appropriate oil skimmers instead of conditioning offers of assistance on letting American vessels into their waters?

As for the Jones Act, the article says no individual waivers have been granted to date. It also addresses the Dutch oil skimmer story:


We do not know why those particular Dutch vessels were declined (or even if they were) but we do know it wasn’t because of the Jones Act. As mentioned earlier, foreign vessels can skim oil or perform most other maritime services freely in the area where most of the oil can be found – out beyond 3 miles from our shoreline – plus the streamlined provisions in the law to allow foreign skimmers to operate within 3 miles have been activated. Many foreign (and U.S.-flag) vessels and assets, including from the Netherlands, are actively involved in the Gulf cleanup.


The problem isn’t the Jones Act – even state-of-the-art American vessels are standing by in the Gulf, ready and willing to participate in the cleanup. Also, oil spill response equipment offered by foreign nations, such as Norwegian skimming systems, can be deployed on U.S. vessels. In some cases, according to the NIC, offers of international assistance have been turned down because the offer did not fit the needs of the response. The Gulf oil spill is an unprecedented disaster. Finding, evaluating, procuring, and directing oil spill response vessels or skimming, booms or other response equipment does not happen overnight, and both BP and the federal government have acknowledged that the procurement of skimmers has not occurred as quickly as people would like. The most recent count is that about 500 vessels are skimming as part of BP’s so-called Vessels of Opportunity Program.


As noted, the problem is not the Jones Act but possibly one of the overwhelming task of vetting resources necessary to meet this unprecedented disaster. As the needs and available resources are sorted out, every available and useful vessel should be used. However, American vessels and American workers should be given first priority.

A blanket waiver of the Jones Act, as opposed to a vessel-specific waiver (where no American vessel is available), would do away with that basic, common sense approach. It would effectively outsource to foreigners work that Americans legally should get and very much need, especially in this region and economy. A broad waiver eliminating any employment opportunities for American workers would be an odd and even cruel approach considering the economic devastation of the oil spill and related fishing and drilling restrictions on American fishermen, offshore supply vessel operators and others in the Gulf.

This raises more questions than it answers for me, although I’m almost convinced the Jones Act isn’t the problem — but an excuse the Administration may have used to protect American jobs. More and more, it sounds like an uncoordinated response with agencies working against each other. For example:

  • The foreign oil skimmers may be working now but “the offer was apparently turned down because EPA regulations do not allow water with oil to be pumped back into the ocean.” Was this the EPA’s decision and, if so, why was the EPA making the decision instead of the MMS? [EDIT: At that time, I suspect the government was basing its projections on its own models that said the oil would likely dissipate in the Gulf and never reach the coast. Thus, those bad projections may well have affected everyone’s preparations and response to the spill.]
  • The Coast Guard grounded Louisiana oil skimmers for 24 hours over life vests and fire extinguishers. Was this a long-standing issue the skimmers failed to address or something else?
  • Despite government claims to the contrary, someone is telling oil skimmers they need a Jones Act waiver. Yesterday’s AP report on the giant “A Whale” oil skimmer says the vessel’s operator stated he needs a Jones Act waiver, even though his only mission is to skim oil more than 3 miles off the coast — something the Maritime article reports does not require a Jones Act waiver.
  • Over 2 months and no one even knows what rules apply.

    — DRJ

    28 Responses to “Oil Skimmers and the Jones Act”

    1. The only rule is that The One not be stained. At all costs, his shirt must be clean. Never mind the ocean or beaches.

      Ed from SFV (a70e6f)

    2. “The National Incident Command (NIC) says there has been “no case” where an offer of foreign assistance has been declined because of the Jones Act.”

      O.K. Fine. They were turned down before you got to the point of needing to address the Jones Act. How about some truth Poindexter?

      daleyrocks (1d0d98)

    3. this looks like a job for journalism…. go get em tigers

      happyfeet (19c1da)

    4. Transparent, this administration is not. Skulduggerous, absolutely. Chicago politics as usual – the proper payoffs simply haven’t yet been made.

      Insufficiently Sensitive (8906ed)

    5. Confirmation that the White House is lying to us.

      SPQR (26be8b)

    6. you think they could at least have their excuses stories straight this far into a screw up.

      redc1c4 (fb8750)

    7. btw, this site is totally turning into “DRJ’s Pontifications.” That ain’t a bad thing, necessarily, but I thought I would note it.

      Face it Patterico, this is group blog, now. Might as well rename it the Patterico Conspiracy.

      Aaron Worthing (A.W.) (f97997)

    8. The Jones act might apply to skimmers even if they are working more than 3 miles out, depending on how the act is interpreted. If the skimmers make multiple calls at US port(s) to unload the captured oil, the government might interpret that as carrying cargo between US ports, triggering the restriction.

      Of course, no one in the government is going to clarify that unless they are forced to by a very specific question.

      Ken in Camarillo (645bed)

    9. The only way to understand this is to subpeona everybody, put them under oath, and after more normal interrogation techniques, put the meanest SOB trial attorney that ever lived, defense or prosecution, rip into them to get whatever’s left.

      I know Alan Page (of Minnesota’s “Purple People Eaters fame) is a judge, but he doesn’t look nearly as imposing as he once was.

      Somewhere along this mess are people who deserve to be waterboarded or more. An ongoing display of utter ridiculousness.

      When attacking a problem, concentrate as much firepower as possible at the point of battle. When the skimmers were getting in each others way then it would have been time to start sending people home.

      And these people are going to be in charge of health care??? And I am not going to by a government engineered car, either.

      MD in Philly (5a98ff)

    10. An administration official said last week that only twenty skimmers ‘were available’ out of 2,000 in the USA because they might be needed elsewhere. The State Department site said it only approved five out of twenty eight countries’ requests to help, and that the rest are still under consideration sixty six days after the 9.11 worst environmental disaster in US history. The Jones Act is not an impediment, yet the administration is not waiving it, and is dancing around such non impediment, by hacking equipment off of already equipped vessels, retrofitting them onto US flagged vessels (why such actions are necessary if Jones Act requirements are not involved?) and delays in training are occurring due to such idiocy by this organized labor riddled Administration. This is no longer in the field of incompetence but has entered the purview of criminal negligence/recklessness. I hope the Notices of Claims under the FTCA are being prepared even as this is written.

      eaglewingz08 (326e65)

    11. The alternate explanation for why equipment is flown over and fitted to a US vessel might be that it is faster than sailing the ship across the Atlantic – should that be where the ship actually is.

      However, the need to then train a US crew instead of flying over the European crew who already know how to operate the equipment would undermine that explanation.

      SPQR (26be8b)

    12. SPQR – Maybe flying the crew would cause irepairable damage to the earth Gaia through production of greenhouse gasses. Check with Al Gore.

      Have Blue (854a6e)

    13. The fact that ship’s foreign ship’s operator believes that he needs a Jones Act waiver doesn’t come close to proving that the U.S. told him he needs a waiver. His belief might be based on his or someone in his company’s failure to understand what the Jones act does and does not require.

      George (70e0f6)

    14. George – A lot of foreign operators must have reached the same misunderstanding almost sumultaneously. Very curious.

      daleyrocks (1d0d98)

    15. George, that’s pretty ineffective spin.

      SPQR (26be8b)

    16. The response by the president and his team has been delayed, confused and partial, at best.

      This calls into question the administration’s competence.

      GeneralMalaise (9cf017)

    17. SPQR- Saying something is ineffective spin is not a rational argument. Are you seriously saying that it is extremely unlikely a foreign operator would misinterpret U.S. law. American lawyers sometimes misinterpret U.S. Law.

      I will be happy to respond to daleyrocks’ argument(which is a rational argument if the premise is true) as soon as someone provides evidence to support the claim that a lot of foreign operators reached the same conclusion about the Jones Act almost simultaneously.

      George (70e0f6)

    18. You’re the one attempting to push that premise, George. daleyrocks was pointing out how ridiculous that thesis is.

      EW1(SG) (edc268)

    19. George… please review the marching orders you received when you accepted your assignment. If I’m not mistaken, you were supposed to spread confusion to others, not yourself.

      GeneralMalaise (9cf017)

    20. George, I’m saying that we keep hearing that spin from Obama admin defenders all the while, ship operators are being told they need a waiver. And the ships don’t get approval from the Coast Guard to operate.

      So what I’m saying is spare us.

      SPQR (26be8b)

    21. Still waiting for evidence that ship operators (plural) are being told they need a waiver.

      George (70e0f6)

    22. Still waiting for evidence that ship operators are actually operating in the numbers that have volunteered and that are needed.

      MD in Philly (3d3f72)

    23. I have never said or implied that “ship operators are actually operating in the numbers that have volunteered and that are needed” As far as I know, we do need to put more ships in operation. There are many potential barriers to this that I can think of–and probably a lot that I am not aware of–, but I don’t think the Jones Act is one of them.

      George (70e0f6)

    24. but I don’t think the Jones Act is one of them.

      George, your failure to think is obvious.

      And you are correct, it isn’t the Jones Act itself that is a barrier to employing foreign flagged specialty vessels for the purpose of oil spill reduction, it is the administration’s failure to act in a timely manner to seek exemptions for those foreign flag vessels that is the barrier.

      Now kindly toddle off back to TPM or wherever you came from.

      EW1(SG) (edc268)

    25. You’re really don’t handle anything remotely approaching disagreement well do you?

      For all I know, the Jones Act, or the failure to grant exemptions from the Jones Act if you prefer, has kept important resources out of the gulf.

      I am sorry that asking for evidence of that, beyond one ship operators possibly erroneous belief that he needs a waiver, is offensive to you.

      George (70e0f6)

    26. For all I know, the Jones Act, or the failure to grant exemptions from the Jones Act if you prefer, has kept important resources out of the gulf.”

      The Truth.

      GeneralMalaise (9cf017)

    27. George,

      I think the issue is who has the burden of proof. Until something that resembles competence is shown by the feds, many of us are more likely to accept what others say rather then administration spokesmen. Perhaps the foreign ship owner/captain/deck-hand is confused by US law, or it was a reporter who made a mistake, but it sure seems the White House can’t figure it out, either.

      It has been stated before, which seemed credible at the time, that Bush waived the Jones Act at Katrina, suggesting that it had previously thought to be important.

      We agree that not all of the hold-up is due to the Jones Act, much of it is because the EPA would rather have 100% oil in the gulf than 99.5%+ or it taken out, leaving 16 ppm or whatever the (inappropriate) standard is, some is because the C.G is awaiting documentation of life vests, etc., rather than looking themselves.

      MD in Philly (3d3f72)

    28. You’re really don’t handle anything remotely approaching disagreement well do you?

      It’s not that at all…I just happen to know this particular bit of maritime law and practice well, and you keep demonstrating that you understand neither that nor the administration’s malfeasance.

      EW1(SG) (edc268)

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