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DHS grants Jones Act waiver, allowing ship carrying much-needed diesel fuel to dock in Puerto Rico

The Department of Homeland Security has granted a Jones Act waiver, allowing a ship that has been trying to deliver diesel fuel to the hurricane-ravaged island of Puerto Rico to dock.

“In response to urgent and immediate needs of the Puerto Rican people in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, I have approved a temporary and targeted Jones Act waiver to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico have sufficient diesel to run generators needed for electricity and the functioning critical facilities as they recover from Hurricane Fiona,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Wednesday in a statement.

The ship was expected to dock in Puerto Rico on Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard told CBS News.

The Jones Act is a law dating back more than 100 years that requires merchandise traveling between U.S. ports to be delivered on vessels that were primarily built in the U.S., and are owned and operated by Americans.

A vessel called GH Parks carrying 300,000 barrels of diesel and sailing under the flag of Marshall Islands had been stalled off the coast of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Coast Guard said. It departed Sunday from Texas City en route to Guayanilla, according to maritime tracking data, but had been stuck since arriving off the shores of Puerto Rico on Monday.

More than a week after Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico and knocked out power lines, hundreds of thousands on the island were still experiencing blackouts.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierlusi had asked the U.S. government directly to grant the ship approval to enter the port and offload. Pierlusi said Monday that he called Mayorkas to intervene and expedite the request so that the ship “can unload the fuel for the benefit of our people.” 

Mayorkas said Wednesday that the decision to grant the waiver was “made in consultation with the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and Defense to assess the justification for the waiver request and based on input from the Governor of Puerto Rico and others on the ground supporting recovery efforts.”

He also noted in his statement that “In 2020, Congress eliminated the Federal Government’s authority to issue long-term comprehensive waivers, except in circumstances where a waiver is required to ‘address an immediate adverse effect on military operations.’ Under the law, waivers that do not meet that standard must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

Exactly who owns and operates the GH Parks is unclear. While records list GY Shipco XII LLC and Synergy Maritime Private Limited as owner and operator, respectively, the Puerto Rican government told CBS News that it believed British Petroleum was connected to the diesel shipment. CBS News reached out to BP but has not received a response.

Peerless Oil & Chemicals, the agency that requested the diesel shipment from GH Parks, supplies diesel and gasoline to thousands of gas stations across Puerto Rico as well as hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, U.S. Navy and Puerto Rican government. The company’s general manager, Luis Vázquez, told El Nuevo Dia that he requested the GH Parks route to Guayanilla in the aftermath of Fiona, and the government was aware of its impending arrival.

Fiona caused catastrophic damage as it made landfall earlier this month in Puerto Rico, which is still coping with the repercussion caused by Hurricane Maria five years ago. That storm had lingering repercussions on Puerto Rico’s power grid, and residents have become accustomed to outrageously high electric bills and rolling blackouts since then. 

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