Within days of the oil spill, several European nations and thirteen countries in total apparently offered the Obama administration ships to assist in the clean-up of the Gulf. When asked about this, a State Department press spokesman refused to identify any offers of assistance.
According to one newspaper, European firms could complete the task in four months, rather than an estimated nine months if done only by the U.S. Working with the U.S., the cleanup could be accomplished in three months. The Belgian firm DEME contends it can clean up the oil with accuracy at a depth of 2,000 meters. Another European firm with capabilities is the Belgian firm Jan De Nul Group. There are also Dutch companies with similar special equipment capable of accelerating cleaning-up the Gulf. The Belgians and the Dutch are also long time NATO allies and as such partners in international security cooperation.
According to the article, no U.S. companies have the ships which can accomplish this task is because those ships would cost twice as much to build in the U.S. as they do outside the country. This is one adverse impact of the Jones Act, which Congress passed in 1920s. This piece of protectionism has only hampered an anemic American maritime industry. It also has prevented a quicker response to the oil spill. European firms do have the expertise to clean up the spill.
If other nations have the technologies to address this oil spill, then the administration does have the ability to accept their help: in response to Hurricane Katrina, for example, Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff temporarily waived the Jones Act in order to facilitate much-needed transport of oil throughout the country.
The Jones Act, which is supposedly about protecting jobs, is actually killing jobs. The jobs of fishermen, people working in tourism and others who live along the Gulf Coast and earn a living there are being severely impacted. There are also additional private sector jobs which are NOT being created in the United States since the Jones Act effectively prices U.S. based companies out of the ability to be competitive on the competitive global market.
As we strive to develop new technologies for a cleaner environment at sea, the Jones Act continues to hobble our own capabilities, sometimes with devastating results.
The Jones Act needs to be waived now in light of this catastrophe and permit those whom we have helped and cooperated with in the past to assist us in our need. After waiving the Jones Act for the Gulf clean up effort, Congress and the administration should repealing it all together.
Co-authored by Claude Berube
UPDATE: A previous version of this post identified Jan De Nul Group as Dutch. They are in fact Belgian.