Know Your Maritime Law

If you miss your cruise, don’t swim after the churning propellers. Not only because it’s a good way to streak a blood red parabola across the churning tides; you could find yourself $300 poorer due to an antiquated, much forgotten law.

The culprit is the Jones Act, a Federal law established in the 19th century that prevents foreign ships from transporting passengers between U.S. Ports. The Millers of Ironton, Ohio ran afoul of it after missing their cruise departing from Seattle. The cruise was going to Alaska, so they hopped a plane to Juneau, waited for the ship for two days and boarded, where they were fined $600 ($300 each) for beaching the Jones act.

Better keep abreast of your obsolete 19th century law next time you go on vacation.

Federal Law Ruins Local Couple’s Cruise [WTRF]

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  1. John Stracke says:

    I don’t understand what’s going on here. If it was illegal for them to board in a US port, why would boarding in Seattle have been better? Did the ship change flags after leavign Seattle?

  2. Ben Popken says:

    Ken writes:

    “First off, passengers cannot violate the Jones Act, which covers the employment of merchant seamen and the movement of cargo. Seeing it called the Jones Act in the media doesn’t surprise me anymore since newspapers and TV newsreaders know jack-squat about shipping, and the report itself leaves out facts than have to been in place in order for there to be a story at all.

    The violation in question relates to the Passenger Services Act 1886, back when sea and river travel was considered transportation. The PSA of 1886 stated that ships carrying passengers between U.S. ports had be U.S. built, staffed and flagged, and this was supposed to protect the infrastructure of U.S. passenger shipping. Today it means that smaller American owned firms like the Delta Queen Steamboat Company and CruiseWest can ply U.S. waters carrying passengers without being gobbled up by the huge cruiseline industry giants, which operate under non-U.S. flags and generally employ very few American workers. (Norwegian Cruise Line is, right now, the largest operator of U.S. flagged ships, all of which are in Hawaii.) Bob and Joan’s Alaska cruise must have made port in either Vancouver or Victoria, B.C between departure from Seattle and it’s arrival in Juneau.

    I do have sympathy for poor Bob and Joan, but I don’t believe the cruiseline owes them the amount of the fine (which, by the way, I believe is $200 per person, not $300, unless it’s changed recently) and is paid directly to the Feds. I know many people fly into a port city on the same day as their scheduled departure — but if you had a Very Important Business Meeting Upon Which Your Life Depended, would you take the risk and assume that your scheduled air transportation would get you there same-day? Or would you fly in a day early, spend the night and be up bright, early — and on time? Why would you do less for a vacation?

    Did they purchase travel insurance? It would have been a perfect time to cash in on that “trip interruption” clause.

    And how did they decide to fly to Juneau to meet their ship? Did there travel agent recommend this or the cruise line itself? Either one should have recognized the problem the PSA would cause (particularly a travel agent, as shoreside operations on most cruise lines are, in my experience, kind but clueless!)”

  3. Ben Popken says:

    J. Trynosky writes:

    “While I’m no fan of Government regulations controlling business, I can tell you that the only thing keeping foreign flagged slave ships (known as flag of convenience ships, countries with great nautical heritages like , Liberia, Panama, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Mauritania,) from operating in domestic commerce is the Jones Act. It is single handedly keeping the American Merchant Marine alive, which amounts to a cvilian branch of our armed forces in time of war. The Merchant Marine, not the Navy, or Army moves our troops combat equipment to battle, and they’ve paid in blood since the founding of our Nation.

    American flagged ships are safer, better, maintained, and the sailors earn a living wage, unlike the underpaid, underfed, slaves that work on many foreign flagged vessels. There is also an issue with allowing these ships with questionable security practices to operate between our ports. The worst part about it, is that many foreign flagged ships are owned by US companies, they operate under a flag of convenience to escape government safety regulations, and in order to exploit foreign work forces that may not have the union leverage of their US counterparts. Shipping is a dangerous business, and the Jones Act helps make it safer for some.

    FYI, it was not enacted in the 19th century.

    It’s unfortunate that their vacation was ruined, but I believe the act does more good than bad.”

  4. Papercutninja says:

    Hmm. Why the fuck are people still going on boats anyway? I think that’s the more pressing question. We have FLYING MACHINES now.

  5. RandomHookup says:

    I realize the link comes from a TV station, but, damn. That is a news story? On Consumerist, yes, but not at a real media outlet.

  6. Based on the absolutely marvelous comments sent in by Ken and Mr. Trynosky, the law seems a necessary and just one. However, the application in this case seems to be contrary to the spirit of the law. Perhaps the Miller’s can take this fine to court and have it rescinded thereby creating a precedent for case law that would prevent this type of thing from happening again. It seems like it is a rare occurence, but the law was not enacted to penalize people for missing their ships, so it shouldn’t be applied in that way.

  7. stubar says:

    RH, we’re dealing with Ironton, OH, here, a place I’ve spent an unfortunate amount of time in. Hell, the act of taking an Alaskan cruise itself would make the news. I kid, but not really.

  8. Ishmael says:

    Why in the world did they take a plane to Alaska, then catch their boat back? They missed half of their cruise! Isn’t that what that handy, inexpensive trip insurance is for? I’m scheduled to go on a Carribean cruise in September, and the trip insurance was less than $100 per person.

  9. Triteon says:

    I’m amused that Ishmael is taking a cruise…on the Pequod perhaps?

  10. Ishmael says:

    Not this time. Every time I took that baby out, there was this whale following me around, causing a ruckus. So I just parked her and am letting someone else play Captain this time.