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Clay Rossi
Clay Rossi
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Keeping up with the Jones Act

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Anyone who lives near the sea is familiar with the old adage “Any port in a storm.” For those unfamiliar with the phrase, it means that when serious trouble arises help from anyone is welcome. If news reports are correct, there are some who are not familiar with the meaning, or wisdom, of that saying.

According to Foreign Policy Magazine, the Federal government has rejected international assistance in dealing with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Other reports state that Dutch and Belgian companies (countries that are “longtime NATO allies) have technology and resources that, coupled with American assistance could, cut the projected oil spill clean-up time from nine months down to three months. As those whose livelihood is tied to the fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico face economic ruin and for those whose Gulf Coast property comes under the undulating waves of crude oil contamination, accepting help from any quarter is a no-brainer. Then why are the Feds saying “no thank you”?

The likely answer is this: The lives and fortunes everyday Americans have been caught up in the gamesmanship of politicians and corporations. We know the first rule of modern politics: “Never allow a crisis to go to waste. They are opportunities to do big things.”

The “big thing” dujour from the corporate point of view seems to be an attempt to scrap the Jones Act. Otherwise known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Act is being set up as the boogeyman and main impediment to getting foreign help. But why try to marshal sentiment to scuttle the Jones Act, if it can be temporarily waived? It is not coincidental that the much maligned Jones Act also codifies the remedies available to injured seamen, whereby they can bring a claim against their employers for negligence and recover lost wages, medical expenses, as well as damages for pain, suffering, and metal anguish. Altering or amending those remedies would be a “big thing.”

Efforts in Congress to raise the damages cap under the Oil Pollution Act seem to have stalled. If Washington is going to limit recovery for those damaged by the oil spill, shouldn’t every effort be allowed to limit those damages? Is the White House worried that accepting foreign help would be spun by political opponents into a sign of perceived weakness? You betcha. But at some point politics has to be put aside and people in dire need of help have to receive assistance. The people of the Gulf Coast deserve whatever help can be given – but that help shouldn’t become a political quid pro quo that sells out the legal rights of American seaman.

While assessing what can be done to help the Gulf, another maxim bears repeating: "He who helps quickly, helps twice."