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The Trump administration has refused to suspend shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico, which has been devastated by Hurricane Maria, despite doing so after hurricanes Harvey and Irma struck the US mainland.

The Jones Act restricts shipping between US coasts to US-flagged vessels only, though the US Virgin Islands are currently exempt. A temporary waiver for Puerto Rico was requested by eight representatives, including US Representative Nydia Velázquez, to help fuel and supplies reach the territory by permitting foreign-flagged ships.

However, the Department of Homeland Security disagrees that the exemption would help, on the basis that the issue in Puerto Rico is “port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability”, according to a US Customs and Border Protection spokesman.

Puerto Rico is desperately in need of supplies after Hurricane Maria

The department argues that the waivers following Harvey and Irma were to ease movement of fuel along the East Coast, due to the temporary outages of high-capacity pipelines.

Puerto Rico has a history of opposing the Jones Act on the basis that it makes importing basic commodities more expensive, so that the cost of living is higher than it is on the US mainland.

Republican Senator John McCain, who has also long opposed the Jones Act, released a statement in response to the situation: “It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster,” he said.

President Donald Trump has since made remarks suggesting that voices from the US shipping industry are partly responsible for the decision.

“We’re thinking about that,” he said in response to questions about the waiver, “but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people… who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”

Trump is known to favour protectionist policies.

(Source: Reuters, Wall Street Journal)

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