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Page Updated 12/07/2021

The Jones Act (Cabotage Law) How Does the Jones Act Affect Cruise Ships?


The United States has a history with predated laws that still affect the country, and the Jones Act is one of those laws. The Jones Act came into effect for the cruise industry in 1920, and even after 100 years, it is still in place today.

The Jones Act is not a law on its own but an addition to the Merchant Marine Act focusing on the rules concerning the industry and the ports and water of the United States.

What is the Jones Act All About?

  • Passenger Vessel Services Act Comes Under the Jones Act
  • Jones Act and Its Impact on the Cruise Industry
  • Consequences for Failing to Follow the Jones Act
  • Ehline Law and Los Angeles Cruise Ship Lawyers

What’s surprising is that the Jones Act came in the early 1900s for the commercial freight shipping companies that would use the United States water and its ports. However, today many contribute the cruise industry growth to the Jones Act. In Europe, this act is also called Cabotage Law.

Passenger Vessel Services Act Comes Under the Jones Act

Since the Jones Act was initially done for the cargo shipping industry, a section later added called the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) to incorporate passenger vessels into the Act. Let’s look at the differences between the Jones Act for cargo ships and PVSA.

The Jones Act covers any cargo ship carrying goods from one U.S. port to the other. Any ship that wants to move goods from one US port to the other must comply with the U.S. Maritime laws meaning it must be built, have legal ownership, and be documented in the United States.

While on the other hand, the PVSA applies to all cruise ships that move passengers around from a U.S. port to any part of the world. Under this law, registration in the U.S. is a must for all cruise ships looking to pick up passengers from any port in the country.

Jones Act and Its Impact on the Cruise Industry

To avoid such laws, cruise lines are going out of their way to register their businesses in other countries that have a more relaxed existence. Most countries don’t have such strict laws. This means that the cruise lines must pay close attention to their itineraries.

The Jones Act is not perfect and has some exceptions that the cruise lines have taken advantage of. The Jones Act does not allow cruise ships to depart from one U.S. port and arrive at another port in the U.S.

Still, it does allow a cruise ship to depart from one U.S. port, travel to a distant port, perhaps in South America, and then travel back to any of the ports in the US.

For example, under the Jones Act, Cruise ships can travel from Miami to any foreign port in South America and then, through the Panama Canal, drop the passengers off at California port.

Another exception in the Jones Act is that cruise ships not registered in the U.S. can pick passengers up from one U.S. port but can not drop the passengers off at another U.S. port. However, the cruise ship can stop for a while at another U.S. port if it has at least one foreign port stop in its itinerary.

For example, a cruise ship can pick passengers at Miami, head to California for a quick stop, and continue its journey to any of the foreign ports, perhaps the Bahamas.

Consequences for Failing to Follow the Jones Act

There are severe fines and penalties imposed on cruise ships that do not follow the laws in the PVSA under the Jones Act. If a passenger on a foreign-flagged ship not registered in the U.S. gets picked at one U.S. port and disembarks on another, the cruise ship will have to pay hefty fines.

This act ensures that cruise ships follow such laws while traveling within the country. Let’s take another example to help you understand the parameters of the Jones Act.

A cruise ship picks up a passenger at a U.S. port and stops at another U.S. port for excursion activities. If a passenger gets injured during such activities and decides to pursue medical treatment for their injuries, the ship must pay a fine for it.

If a family member or the passenger’s friend joins the passenger and gets off the ship, the cruise line must pay fines for both the travelers.

There are several situations where cruise lines can get exemptions or apply for a Jones Act waiver. An example is when the Norwegian cruise line got an exemption for operating foreign ships under the U.S. flag.

Although the act has some exemptions, it has shaped the cruise industry into today. It holds local and foreign ships responsible for not following the law and ensures the safety of the passengers on board.

Ehline Law and Los Angeles Cruise Ship Lawyers

The Jones Act ensures that cruise ship restructures their itineraries and keep a close eye on their passengers at every port. To avoid fines, cruise ships operating in the U.S. make sure they have a passenger list and conduct counts when departing from any port in the same country.

For more information on the Jones Act and PVSA, contact us at (213) 596-9642. Our expert lawyers have a lot of experience dealing with cruise ship incidents resulting in millions in compensation for our clients. If you’ve had any injuries on a cruise ship or lost someone, contact us and get a free consultation on your case today!

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