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The U.S. will waive the Jones Act, allowing a supply ship to enter the islands ports.
The U.S. will waive the Jones Act, allowing a supply ship to enter the islands ports. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. waives Jones Act, British supply ship can enter Puerto Rico

Help will finally come two weeks after Hurricane Fiona first pummeled the island.

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On Wednesday, Sept. 28, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would temporarily waive the over century year old law, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, or better known as the Jones Act, to better provide much-needed aid to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. 

The law requires any goods or supplies shipped to Puerto Rico be on an American ship, operated by Americans and flying the U.S. flag. 

The U.S. government waiver now allows help to enter the island’s ports. This is after Governor Pedro Pierluisi said help was not necessary, 

“Puerto Rico has supplies available here, but for an extraordinary quantity in four warehouses, instead of one warehouse I think we had after María. The Family Department also has its warehouse, so at this time, since we don't want to have logistics situations in Puerto Rico in our main port, the port of San Juan for humanitarian aid, which is appreciated but really isn't necessary,” Pierluisi said at the time. 

In the two weeks since Hurricane Fiona first swept Puerto Rico, the island has struggled to restore power and lacks the supplies needed to rebuild and restore normal working conditions including diesel supplies. 

Help came by way of a British Petroleum ship carrying gas and other supplies, but because of the Jones Act, the ship was unable to enter the ports and had been waiting in the southern waters of the island since Sunday, Sept. 25. 

The announcement comes two days after Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi asked President Joe Biden to intervene and help waive the act. A week prior, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, and six other U.S. Representatives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Juan Vargas, sent a letter to the U.S. government requesting the waiver. 

“In response to urgent and immediate needs of the Puerto Rican people in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, I have approved a temporary and targeted Jones Act waiver to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico have sufficient diesel to run generators needed for electricity and the functioning of critical facilities as they recover from Hurricane Fiona,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a release. 

“The decision to approve the waiver was made in consultation with the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and Defense to assess the justification for the waiver request and based on input from the Governor of Puerto Rico and others on the ground supporting recovery efforts,” he continued. 

In the two weeks since the aftermath of Fiona, while some residents have had their power restored, nearly 311,000 Puerto Ricans out of 1.47 million are still without power. Fiona struck the southern tip of the island and was categorized as a category one hurricane, which caused a complete power black out. The inadequate power grid that has long been criticized has not held up, and many hospitals are still working off of generators. 

LUMA, the operator of the power transmission and distribution on the island announced Wednesday that it would take at least another week to restore electricity to 90% of customers in the southern and western parts of the island that saw the most damage. 

“Hurricane Fiona severely impacted critical parts of the electric grid and generation facilities across Puerto Rico, especially in the Ponce and Mayagüez regions that suffered severe damage to roads and critical infrastructure,” the company said. 

Puerto Rico has also been hindered by the lack of diesel supplies. The disruptions have caused grocery stores, businesses, gas stations, and even schools to shut down as diesel supplies dwindled following the hurricane. 

The Jones Act waiver delay is but the first step in what looks to be a long recovery process.

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