Jones Act must be applied to offshore wind projects


Renewable energy is coming into its own as an alternative to traditional sources of electricity that rely on oil and other fossil fuels. One of the fastest growing alternatives is wind power, for good reason. 

Without the costs and pollution associated with the oil industry, these turbines on land and water create electricity any time the wind blows.

In fact, just one wind turbine can generate enough electricity in 46 minutes to power a typical house for a month, and some wind farms have as many as 600 turbines. 

Recognizing its potential, President Biden announced not long after taking office that his administration would “jump start” offshore wind energy projects on the Great Lakes, East Coast and West Coast. In 2022, there were three lease auctions covering nearly 1 million acres of U.S. coastal waters specifically set aside for offshore wind energy installations. One off the coast of North Carolina brought in $315 million dollars, another off the coast of California went for nearly $800 million dollars, and a third off New York netted nearly $5 billion. Proceeds are split between federal, state and local governments.

There are two operational offshore wind farms in the U.S. One is off the coast of Rhode Island and the other is off Virginia. They utilize huge wind turbines above the water that are supported by towers connected to the seabed — some almost double the height of the Washington Monument. Electricity generated by the turbines is carried down to the ocean bottom and run ashore by heavy-duty electrical cables.

Many different types of vessels are involved in placing wind power installations at sea. In fact, every offshore wind farm requires up to 25 ships and boats to complete the project. Some survey or dredge the seafloor prior to beginning construction; others bring out turbines, towers, and electrical cable, with a few vessels needed to bring workers to and from the site. The most important to the operation are known as wind turbine installation vessels (WTIVs). These are used to construct the foundations for the array, secure the towers to the foundations, deploy the electrical cables from the surface to the seabed, and secure the huge turbines needed to generate the electricity. SOVs, or service operation vessels, are dynamic-positioning-capable ships that can house 40 or more technicians on site for days or weeks at a time. Smaller CTVs, or crew transfer vessels, ferry construction and maintenance personnel daily to and from shore. 

With the number of ships and boats involved in placing wind power installations at sea, it’s no wonder that there has been a great deal of excitement among American merchant mariners. Thousands, or even tens of thousands of jobs, could ultimately be created. Unbelievably, a U.S. government agency wants to stop that from happening.

In 2021, one of the first things President Biden ordered was that offshore wind energy installations maximize the use of our merchant mariners and American-flag ships by fully adhering to all the tenets of the Jones Act. The law, formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, established the U.S. merchant marine as our country’s fourth arm of defense, and has protected jobs for American mariners by requiring that any cargo transported from one U.S. port to another or from a U.S. port to an offshore facility in our waters be carried on U.S.-flag vessels. 

Despite this, early in 2022, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) flagrantly disregarded President Biden’s order by allowing foreign ships to carry supplies for the installation of the wind farms, lay electrical cable between U.S. ports and the offshore turbines, and ferry foreign workers to a work site to construct and maintain turbines in our waters. This decision kept U.S. mariners and other maritime workers from much needed jobs.

Where does a government agency with essentially no offshore maritime functions, have the audacity to impose their rules for installing anything off our 12,000 miles of coast? And how do they directly disobey the president’s orders? In my opinion, the CPB permitting foreign companies to work on wind energy projects in our territorial waters is totally illegal, going against a maritime law that has been in place for over 100 years. Relying on foreign ships that don’t always meet the same U.S. Coast Guard operating standards as American vessels could result in problems ranging from pollution to poor-quality wind farm construction. It also could open our coastal borders to safety and security risks from unscreened and potentially hostile foreign workers. Luckily, there are still a few elected officials who realize the potential for death and destruction this could cause. One is U.S. Rep. John Garamendi of California.

Garamendi has pointed out that for the last 50 years, the CPB has placed our country at risk by enabling foreign vessel operators to circumvent vessel and crewing requirements, construction mandates, and legal regulations. That’s why, late last year, he introduced the “Close Agency Loopholes to the Jones Act” bill, which would permanently repeal every anti-Jones Act ruling the CPB has made since 1972. As a result, the vessels serving the wind farms in our waters would have to be U.S.-flagged, the jobs the CPB took away would be returned to U.S. workers, and once again the Jones Act that has been so disgracefully ignored by the CPB would be followed as intended — for the protection and defense of our nation and its citizens.

As Americans and U.S. merchant mariners, I urge you to encourage your elected officials to support Rep. Garamendi’s bill. If any elected official chooses to ignore this travesty and not support the Jones Act, our unions and every one of us has a patriotic duty to enlighten them, or work at removing them from office.

Till next time, keep supporting the Jones Act, and smooth sailin.’ 

Capt. Kelly Sweeney holds the license of master (oceans, any gross tons) and has held a master of towing vessels (oceans) license as well. He has sailed on more than 40 commercial vessels and lives on an island near Seattle. He can be contacted by email at