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Governor of Puerto Rico asks the US to allow a ship carrying vital diesel fuel to dock on an island devastated by the hurricane

More than a week after Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico — knocking out water and electricity lines across the island— hundreds of thousands of island residents and businesses continued to experience blackouts Monday. A ship carrying around 300,000 barrels of much-needed diesel fuel was scheduled to arrive in the worst-affected region on Sunday night, but has so far been unable to dock due to restrictions put in place by a shipping law dating back nearly 100 years, reports CBS News Senior National Correspondent for “CBS Mornings” David Begnaud.

The story was first reported by Mardelis Jusino of Las Noticias Teleonce.

The Jones Act requires that goods traveling between US ports be delivered on vessels primarily built in the US and owned and operated by Americans. Duties and taxes are imposed on foreign vessels calling at US ports.

The vessel currently stalled off the coast of Puerto Rico, called GH Parks, sails under the flag of the Marshall Islands, the US Coast Guard said. It departed from the city of Texas on Sunday for Guayanilla, according to maritime tracking datashowing that the vessel remained stalled off the coast of the southern port city shortly before midnight, more than six hours after its scheduled arrival time.

Because the ship sails under a foreign flag, it must apply for a Jones Act waiver from the US government before delivering goods to Puerto Rico, the Coast Guard told CBS News. Puerto Rico Ports Director Joel Pizá, who confirmed the ship is carrying 300,000 barrels of diesel, also said the request was pending Sunday night.

Pizza confirmed the position of the ship off the coast of Puerto Rico, noting its foreign flag and its departure from Texas, in a Twitter thread posted early Monday morning. Acknowledging that a Jones Act waiver request had been submitted to the US Department of Homeland Security, he said Puerto Rico government officials would be available to provide any necessary information to DHS as it processes the waiver.

The Governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierlusi, directly requested the US government to grant the ship approval to enter the port and unload. Pierlusi said on Monday that he called the Secretary of National Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, to intervene and expedite the request, so that the ship “unloads the fuel for the benefit of our people.”

A decision from DHS could come before the end of Monday. In a statement to CBS News, the department said it “will continue to review individual requests for Jones Act exemptions on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the Maritime Administration, the Departments of Defense and Energy.”

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

Peerless Oil & Chemicals, the agency that requested the delivery of diesel to GH Parks, supplies diesel and gasoline to thousands of service stations throughout Puerto Rico, as well as hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, the US Navy and the government of Puerto Rico. The general manager of the company, Luis Vázquez, said The new day that he requested the route from GH Parks to Guayanilla in the wake of Fiona, and the government was aware of his imminent arrival.

A man looks at a flooded street in the Juana Matos neighborhood of Catano, Puerto Rico, on September 19, 2022, after Hurricane Fiona.
A man looks at a flooded street in the Juana Matos neighborhood of Catano, Puerto Rico, on September 19, 2022, after Hurricane Fiona.

AFP via Getty Images

Fiona caused catastrophic damage when it made landfall earlier this month in Puerto Rico, which is still dealing with the fallout caused by Hurricane Maria five years ago. That storm had lingering repercussions on Puerto Rico’s power grid, and residents have grown accustomed to shockingly high temperatures. electricity bills and ongoing blackouts since then.

The Jones Act also complicated relief efforts after Hurricane Maria, but a waiver allowed shipments of fuel and other aid for a 10-day period. This week’s request for a Jones Act waiver has prompted bipartisan calls from members of Congress, with Utah Sen. mike lee and representative from New York. Nydia Velazquez asking the federal government to authorize the surrender of GH Parks. Velazquez recently required Mayorkas will temporarily waive the requirements of the Jones Act “to expedite the shipment of supplies to the island’s ports in order to speed Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Fiona.”

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