When speaking on the subject of maritime law, the Jones Act is in reference to federal statute section 883 46 USC . This act is the one that controls the coast wide trade which takes place with the United States, it also determines what ships are allowed to lawfully engage in that trade and it also determines the rules under which these shops must operate.
Usually, the Jones Act does not allow or any vessel the is foreign flagged or foreign built to engage in the coastwise trade taking place with the United States. Various other statutes also affect the coastwise trade and along with the Jones Act, they should be consulted. Some of these include the 46 USC section 12108 which doesn’t allow for the use of a foreign vessel to catch or transport fish commercially in United States waters and the 46 USC section 289 Passenger Services Act which restricts the transportation of passengers coastwise.
This essential term has led to a variety of interpretations as to what actually constitutes “coastwise trade.” A very wide interpretation of this term has also been given by the federal courts. In essence, the term applies to a voyage which commences at any location within the United States and delivers a kind of commercial cargo to any other location also within the United States.
The definition of merchandise has been extended by various cases to include anything that has commercial value, even dredged material designated for landfill use. It has been ruled by the federal district courts that it is not considered “merchandise” to transport sewage sludge as it is a commodity of no value.
That being said, under the terms of section 316 of 46 USC tow boats that are intended for towing must be a United States registered vessel even if they are towing valueless commodities, which must also meet all the rules and terms of the statute.
Under the Passenger Services Act, legislation is provided which controls the operation in the coastwise trade of passenger vessels. It has always been a difficult issue to determine what constitutes a “passenger.” The general definition is any person who is not a crew member, or the ship’s master, or any person engaged in the business of the ship.
The issue of “for hire” involves any consideration that goes from the shop owner to the passenger, agent, charter or any person who is involved with the ship. This consideration is construed to be utilizing a company yacht to entertain clients or customers for the development of “business goodwill.” To take this to its logical conclusion would mean that any vessel which unless it is being used only for personal pleasure must be inspected and registered for coastwise trade.
This extreme does not appear to be the policy of the Coast Guard. It is reasonable to believe that any vessel transporting passengers whether regularly or irregularly should be licensed and inspected for coastwise trade.
It is important to remember that under new regulations, there are various vessel categories subject to inspection, for example: “small passenger vessel”; “passenger vessels”; “uninspected passenger vessels”; and “offshore vessels.”