Hawaii’s Rep. Djou to Obama: Let foreign ships help on Gulf oil clean-up

Chris Moody Chris Moody is a reporter for The Daily Caller.
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Hawaii Republican Rep. Charles Djou became the latest member of Congress to publicly criticize President Obama for not allowing foreign ships into the Gulf of Mexico to help with the clean-up effort of the BP oil spill.

Djou called on the administration to temporarily suspend the Jones Act, which bars foreign ships from engaging in transporting goods to and from American ports. According to a clause in the statute, the president can waive the law on an emergency and temporary basis.

“I agree with the president that our nation’s top priority in addressing the Gulf accident is to stop the leak, clean up the mess and hold BP accountable. I am disappointed, however, that the president has failed to waive the Jones Act for foreign ships, who want to assist in the clean-up efforts,” said Djou in a statement. “There is no good reason to turn away international help in responding to this environmental catastrophe.”

Many vessels that fly foreign flags have offered their ships and manpower for clean-up efforts, but they cannot operate in American waters with full capacity unless they receive a waiver. To date the United States has only accepted equipment loans from foreign nations, which is not prohibited under the law.

Djou has advocated for reform of the 90-year-old law throughout his political career. As an island state that relies heavily upon shipping to receive goods, the anti-competitive Jones Act keeps prices in Hawaii artificially high, Djou said. He is a member of a growing list of voices in Washington calling for a temporary suspension of the law.

Florida Republican Sen. George LeMieux and Republican Rep. Jeff Miller sent a letter to the president earlier this week requesting a waiver.

“We remain concerned that inadequate resources are being dedicated to containing and removing oil from the Gulf before it reaches our fragile coastline,” the letter, addressed to the White House, read. “… Your administration has the authority to waive any bureaucratic barriers that may exist under the Jones Act.”

LeMieux, who met with the president in Pensacola, Florida earlier this week to discuss clean-up efforts, said more needs to be done. “There are only 32 skimmers off the coast of Florida and that’s not enough,” LeMieux said. Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson also voiced concern that the Jones act needed to be waived to face the crisis.

Members of Congress aren’t the only ones in support of using international help to clean up the spill. As The Daily Caller reported last week, shipping industry groups, who benefit heavily from the Jones Act, have also come out in favor of a temporarily waiving specific vessels to help aid in cleaning up the oil spill. The Maritime Cabotage Task Force, a coalition of shipping interests established to defend statutes like the Jones Act, released a statement in support of waiving the law on a case-by-case basis.

“There are well-established federal procedures for waiving the Jones Act to bring in foreign vessels in those situations where American vessels are not available,” the statement read. “The American maritime industry has not and will not stand in the way of the use of these well-established waiver procedures to address this crisis.”

A spokesmen for the task force added that the organization was not in favor of a general waiver for the region like the one former President Bush issued in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“We oppose a broad waiver, which happened in 2005,” said task force spokesman Mark Ruge. “If there’s an American vessel available to do the duty, the request [for aid from a foreign ship] does not get approved.”

In response to questions about whether President Obama would grant a broad waiver, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters last week that opening the Gulf to foreign ships, as was done in 2005, was not necessary in this case.

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