GULF OIL SPILL | Allen responds to Jones Act scaremongering

ADMIRAL Thad Allen has moved to set the record straight on reports of foreign ships allegedly denied entry into the Deepwater Horizon response because of the Jones Act.

Nonetheless, the recently retired commandant of the US Coast Guard, who stayed on as national incident commander in charge of the government oil spill response, said he has instituted a machinery to ensure “accelerated processing” of requests for Jones Act waivers, if any are required in weeks ahead.

So far, no waivers of the Jones Act were necessary and some 15 foreign-flag vessels are involved in the response, Admiral Allen said.

Dutch company Jan de Nul has claimed that its offer to provide Luxembourg-flag mining ship Simon Stevin was stymied “because of the Jones Act”.

Jan de Nul intended to use Simon Stevin’s 2,000 m fall-pipe to suck up oil from the broken well while Simon Stevin remained moored. For this purpose, the Jones Act did not apply.

Even if Simon Stevin had the full package of equipment beyond only the fall-pipe that is needed to capture the oil, this oil would have been transported to a US port or elsewhere on other ships.

Similar work is currently being performed on the broken well by Marshall Islands-flag drillship Discoverer Enterprise.

The Offshore Marine Service Association, the Jones Act lobbying group, said reports suggesting a blanket ban on foreign-flag ships because of the law are incorrect. However, OMSA insisted that ancillary work required to support specialist operations at the well be sub-contracted to US-flag ships.

Adm Allen said assuming situations in future where Jones Act waivers for specialist ships are needed, he has provided guidance to the USCG on-scene co-coordinator, US Customs and Border Protection, and the US Maritime Administration to “ensure waiver requests receive urgent attention and processing”.

The Jones Act might not be so much of a hindrance for a foreign-flag ship working in the Deepwater Horizon response, as would a 29-day cap on foreign visa-holding seafarers for each US port call.

In theory, this would require a response ship, which has a Jones Act waiver because it needs to come to a US port periodically, to change its foreign crews every 29 days.

However, regulatory consultant Dennis Bryant said: “US immigration authorities would be under pressure not to enforce the 29-day visa cap in such cases, given the overall realities.”

Separately, BP said today it was preparing to have a fleet of ships capable of transporting up to 80,000 barrels per day of captured oil by July. Current estimates of the leakage stand at 35,000-60,000 barrels per day, of which 18,000 barrels is being captured.



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