Passenger Vessel Services Act / Jones Act / Cabotage Law Information

A cruise ship in the Caribbean

The Passenger Services Act is also referred to as the Jones Act. Basically, it is a law that prohibits ships not part of the U.S registry from embarking and debarking guests at two different ports in the United States. This sort of travel would make room for point-to-point transportation between two US ports, which is illegitimate and prohibited on foreign flagged ships. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, and one is if the itinerary includes a ‘distant foreign port’. Only in this case is it lawful for a ship to embark and debark at two distinct US ports. The law says, directly:

“No foreign vessels shall transport passengers between ports or places in the United States, either directly or by way of a foreign port, under a penalty of $762 for each passenger so transported and landed.”

This law was enacted on June 19, 1886, signed into law by President Glover Cleveland. In compliance to the law, all vessels involved or engaged in coast-wise trade of any sort have been required to be coast-wise verified by either being US-crewed, US-owned, built, and documented.

Which ports qualify as ‘foreign’ and ‘distant’ in this case? These are located in regions such as:

  • Countries in South America
  • Aruba
  • Curacao
  • Bonaire

Cabotage Policy

Both cargo and passenger vessels found in the US and operating within are covered under the United States Cabotage laws. The movement of goods, cargo or merchandise in the domestic waterborne trades is governed by section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, popularly referred to as the Jones Act. The Cabotage policy of the US and its provisions also cover mixed-use vessels carrying both cargo and passengers.

Major Exceptions

Until declared otherwise by way of presidential proclamation, the United States Virgin Islands are exempted from US cabotage laws.

In happenings or cases where passengers board a non-coastwise qualified vessel and then disembark at another US port as its final destination, there is no violation of the US Cabotage law, as long as the vessel makes an intermediate stop at a ‘distant foreign port’.

Transport of passengers between Puerto Rico and other ports in the United States are lawful, given that there is no eligible US vessel offering such services.

Foreign-flagged vessels may transport passengers on cruises that begin and end at the same US port without going anywhere else, whether foreign or US provided that the US Passenger Services Act is not violated. This ruling was made by the United States Customs and Border Protection. However, because such voyages do not reach transport between US ports or other places whatsoever, numerous foreign gaming vessels are on the increase and taking advantage of the Law to enjoy the no-destination market.

The following ports, do not qualify as either ‘distant’ or ‘foreign’:

  • Bermuda
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Most Carribean Islands
  • Central America

If any individual, guest, traveler, or merchant insists on embarking, either due to circumstances outside the control of the individual, or disembarking (for emergency reasons) , consequently going against the Passenger Services Act, then such an individual will accept any penalties deemed applicable by the United States Port authorities.

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