Silent But Deadly: Congress Passes Wind on the OCS

The Jones Act1 and the Passenger Vessel Services Act2 have been work horses of U.S. cabotage laws and policies for over 100 years. These laws, which restrict the coastwise transportation of merchandise and passengers, respectively, work alongside related cabotage laws dealing with towing,3 dredging4 and salvage.5 Taken together, they present overlapping statutory restrictions on entry to the U.S. coastwise trades which effectively create a “coastwise monopoly” for domestic shipping interests and crews.6 With limited exceptions, vessel operations contemplated by these laws may be conducted solely through the employment of coastwise-qualified vessels, i.e., vessels that are built in the United States, owned and crewed by U.S. citizens, and documented under U.S. law bearing a coastwise endorsement.7

The coastwise laws apply to “points in the territorial sea, which is defined as the belt three nautical miles seaward of the territorial sea baseline, and to points located in internal waters, landward of the territorial sea baseline.”8 In 1953, federal laws and, by extension, the coastwise laws, were extended to the outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”)9 through section 4(a)(1) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (the “OCSLA”) which, as previously amended and until recently, read as follows…


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