Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Hamlet is Next


November 1, 2017

The “infinite monkey” theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will eventually produce the complete works of William Shakespeare. Before that, no doubt, he will produce an opinion piece calling for the repeal of the Jones Act.

That monkey will be in good company. The editorial boards of such imposing publications as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today have produced missives on the devastating effect the merchant Marine Act of 1920 will have on the hurricane-stricken island of Puerto Rico.

To hear these experts tell it, fully 70 percent of the damage wrought by Hurricane Irma would not have happened if a tramp freighter from the Maldives had been allowed to carry much needed supplies to the Port of San Juan from the port of Jacksonville.

Nelson A. Denis of the New York Times claims that the lack of German U-boats off the coast of Puerto Rico is proof enough that the Act has “outlived its original intent”.

Colin Grabow, writing in USA Today, claims costs are excessive in part because US mariners earn $250,000 per year. He bases this on information from the Clinton administration. Perhaps we should raise our subscription rates.

The Wall Street Journal has been very clear in its editorial disdain for the Jones Act, most recently in an unsigned editorial last month.

“It’s unclear how many and what type of Jones Act ships will be available to help Puerto Rico, and the feds aren’t saying,” says the paper. Perhaps the Wall Street Journal should contact the carriers themselves – something none of the three papers apparently bothered to do.

None of these organizations spoke with anyone actually involved in the carriage of goods over water, Jones Act or otherwise. Nor did they take the trouble to speak with one of the many experts available to offer them facts to contradict the erroneous statistics being bandied about in print and on the nightly news.

One of the editorials seems to have been printed before the monkey was finished. The Wall Street Journal said, “If the Jones Act fleet is crucial to victory at sea, the US needs a new navy.”

We admit to being stumped by this non-sequitur. In any case, the US does need a new navy. Who will build it? China? Russia?

Finally, the 130-year-old Wall Street Journal – the journal of record for the New York Stock Exchange, arguably the most capitalist neighborhood on the planet – suggests the federal government nationalize shipping, “and make all US taxpayers pay for ships and seamen, rather than enrich a few companies and foist the bill for higher costs on Puerto Ricans, Hawaiians and Alaskans.”

There is a legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. Can these aforementioned newspapers be trusted to lecture on other topics if they can’t get their facts straight on this one?

The Jones Act is protectionist – yes. It rewards US shipyards – we agree.

It does so to ensure a strong and capable fleet, without which, the US might not include Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico.

Chris can be reached at


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