U.S. Customs Opens Jones Act Outreach Office

File image courtesy CBP

Published Aug 2, 2016 12:38 AM by Paul Benecki

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has set up a new office in New Orleans focused on Jones Act compliance, intended to be a national center of expertise on questions of cabotage regulations and a resource for industry, for customs and for the Coast Guard.

The office, called the Jones Act Division of Enforcement (JADE), has a mission focused on education and outreach, says Supervisor CBP Officer Mike Hebert. "Our focus is not writing penalties," he says. "There are times when there are enforcement actions, but we want to make sure that the industry is familiar with the regulations. We want to get the word out that we're here to help."

In his years of experience working with the oil and gas industry in the Gulf, Hebert has fielded many questions from vessel operators and oil firms about just what is and what is not allowed under Jones Act regulations. With the creation of JADE, Hebert gets to use this experience for questions from all maritime sectors. 

However, Hebert is careful to stress that the new office will not give a formal ruling on the application of cabotage law to a specific case; JADE can only provide an informal preliminary finding, a service for those looking for general guidance. For the most common questions, the office will be putting together printed reference materials, and in the interim, CBP has a brief sheet on the application of cabotage laws.

As part of the office's outreach mission, Hebert gives presentations for industry associations and ongoing trainings for CBP officers and for members of the Coast Guard. His office has several presentations planned for the near future, including one for freight forwarders and customs brokers. 

In the past, domestic shipping organizations and members of Congress have urged CBP to increase its enforcement efforts for Jones Act violations, especially in the Gulf of Mexico. Several years ago the Senate Committee on Appropriations urged the agency "to levy penalties for previously documented violations, continue working with the Offshore Marine Service Association in order to investigate future potential violations, and dedicate adequate resources to vigorously enforce the Jones Act on the Outer Continental Shelf." Following the political pressure, the Department of Homeland Security sought a number of multimillion-dollar penalties for infractions on the OCS, and set up an "e-allegations" website for anonymous reporting.

JADE is an education-oriented accompaniment to the law enforcement and penalty-driven efforts of the last few years, and it is open for inquiries from all corners of the industry. For operators with questions about coastwise trade, JADE can be reached at [email protected]. Allegations of violations of cabotage law can be submitted online at https://eallegations.cbp.gov