One of the reasons the Jones Act was created was to ensure a vibrant United States shipping industry.

Fast forward to 2016: the American shipping industry has been in a steady decline for decades. In 1947, the total U.S. flag seagoing merchant fleet — America’s commercial shipping industry — was comprised of 3,696 ships. As of 2015, that number has dropped to just 167.

 

Source: US Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration

Source: US Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration

 

A look specifically at Jones Act Trade Ships shows a similar trend:

 

Source: US Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration

Source: US Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration

 

Clearly shipbuilding in America has declined significantly in the past century. But why has our merchant marine fleet seen such a steep decline?

One reason is because the cost of building a ship in America is much more expensive than most countries. With more expensive ships comes more expensive shipping prices, and as maritime shipping costs increase, more consumers turn to alternative shipping options, such as air, ground or international competition.

 

Source: US Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration

Source: US Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration

 

Ironically, the Jones Act has done the opposite of some of it’s original goals. By forcing Americans to use American built ships for domestic cargo shipping, the Jones Act has stifled the U.S. merchant marine fleet, and this has likely weakened our national defense.

Jones Act apologists may invent new reasons for the protectionist law’s preservation. But one of it’s original goals of growing the US shipbuilding industry can no longer be defended.

To examine the data more closely, visit openhawaii.org.