US in Jones Act waiver for Hurricane Irma

Port of Miami webcam on Saturday Port of Miami webcam on Saturday

As Hurricane Irma barrels into the Florida coast the logistics of fuel distribution in the aftermath of the storm are already in the spotlight with a Jones Act waiver. 

Distribution of fuel has been a huge concern Florida’s population has grown dramatically in recent years, with many residents living at, or nearby to the coastline. 

Evacuations of several million people - mainly by vehicle and some by airplane-  have proven to be a logistical nightmare as the storm was first thought to be hugging Florida’s eastern side (Miami, Port Everglades, Palm Beach, Port Canaveral, Jacksonville) before computer models had it striking the western coast (Tampa Bay).  

The state, without refineries and without pipelines for taking products (mainly motor gasoline and jet fuel), is heavily dependent on tanker transportation - on deepsea vessels, or barges with capacities equivalent to handysize tankers. Tampa and Port Everglades are distribution hubs for both gasoline and aviation fuels. 

In “normal” times, much of the distribution would be on Jones Act tonnage, however, fleet dislocations are rampant because of the previous hurricane Harvey, and storm-dodging routings. 

With these dislocations in mind and non availability of Jones Act tonnage, the Customs Border Protection (CBP) agency, a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has issued a one-week waiver of the Jones Act, allowing tankers that are not Jones Act qualified to participate in intra-US movements of petroleum products.  The intent is to make fuel available as evacuees return home, and responders clear up and rebuild in Florida post storm.  

The language from the DHS memo is explicit on the rationale for the waiver: “This waiver will ensure that over the next week, all options are available to distribute fuel to states and territories impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, both historic storms. The waiver will be in effect for seven days after signature and is specifically tailored to transportation of refined products in hurricane-affected areas.”

In Florida, ports have been making preparations to shut down ahead of the storm. Under US Coast Guard rules, ports move to “Condition Zulu” - a full shutdown of the port 12 hours in advance of a period of “Gale force winds” sustained winds of Force 7 or more. 

By Saturday evening, 9 September with the storm expected to reach Florida the next morning, Miami and Port Everglades and Port Canaveral had shut down, Palm Beach was about to, as was Jacksonville.  On Florida’s Gulf Coast, Tampa Bay, Port Manatee to the south and Port St. Pete had all closed in advance of the coming storm. The ports at Panama City and Pensacola, in Florida’s “Panhandle” were still open, with the USCG watching Irma’s movement very closely. 

Posted 11 September 2017

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Barry Parker

New York correspondent, Seatrade Maritime

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