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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Diesel fuel supply ship unable to dock due to lack of Jones Act waiver

Ports Authority Executive Director Joel Pizá Batiz

By The Star Staff

A ship carrying diesel fuel had been unable to dock in the southern municipality of Peñuelas since Sunday because of the century-old Jones Act provision that prevents foreign-flagged vessels from transporting goods among U.S. ports.

On Monday the vessel was waiting for federal authorization to deliver its cargo.

Gov. Pedro Pierlusi Urrutia said via Twitter that he had asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to personally intervene to allow the vessel loaded with diesel to dock “for the benefit of our people.”

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement to NBC News on Monday that it “will continue to examine individual requests for Jones Act waivers on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the Maritime Administration, Departments of Defense, and Energy.”

Federal officials must examine whether granting the waiver could prevent a crisis in national security and it is a time-consuming process.

Diesel fuel is used for the operation of power generators in hospitals and businesses. There is no crisis in the amount of diesel fuel available in Puerto Rico but there are problems with its distribution, a situation that has forced some businesses to limit operating hours or shut down.

The problem with the cargo ship comes at a time when about 40% of power customers still do not have electricity a week after Hurricane Fiona dumped over 30 inches of rain and wreaked havoc on the island.

The 1920 Jones Act requires that goods shipped from one U.S. port to another be transported on a ship that is American-built, American-owned, and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

For Puerto Rico, the Jones Act has created problems. Basic shipments of goods from the island to the U.S. mainland, and vice versa, are more expensive relative to goods purchased on the U.S. mainland. Puerto Rico does receive goods from foreign-flagged ships without waivers as long as they do not come from U.S. ports.

Ports Authority Executive Director Joel Pizá Batiz said on the radio Monday that the foreign-flagged ship had departed from Texas City, Texas with 300,000 barrels of diesel two days ago. British Petroleum (BP) owns the diesel and its commercial partner is Peerless Oil and Chemicals in Puerto Rico.

He said they were supposed to get the waiver at least 96 hours in advance.

“They knew they needed a waiver and on Sunday, they called saying they would leave in 16 hours if they could not dock,” Pizá Batiz said.

While the Puerto Rico government is ready to help with the waiver process, the Ports chief noted that BP is an experienced firm that knows it needs a waiver. The firm asked the government for help when they were three to four miles away from the Puerto Rican shore, he said, despite knowing the processes required by the Jones Act.

“We will ask BP and Peerless for explanations,” Pizá Batiz said.

Peerless officials did not answer requests for comment.

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