BREMEN — I read the Bloomberg View guest editorial “Another View: Jones Act long outlives its original mission” in the Dec. 16 Press Herald. Here are my thoughts.

Jones Act requirements – that any ship carrying cargo between U.S. ports must be built, owned and operated by Americans – are based on economic and national security-oriented common sense. Also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the law grew out of the need for active U.S.-flagged merchant ships to transport supplies to troops when foreign crews refuse to enter a war zone.

The 1936 Merchant Marine Act – calling for the creation of a fleet of ships to serve as a naval auxiliary during wartime – made the United States a world power by encouraging U.S.-built and U.S.-flagged ships to carry cargoes between American and world ports. During World War II, merchant ships were built assembly-line fashion to keep up with demand. Since 1960, Jones Act ships have been replaced in the continental United States by trucks transporting goods on heavily subsidized highways. Surviving commercial shipyards have either consolidated to serve the shrinking Jones Act fleet or competed for government contracts.

Concerns have been raised about the age and safety of Jones Act ships – especially in the wake of the El Faro tragedy. Older ships operated and maintained by experienced crews generally sufficed for transportation needs until it was feasible to replace them. Because new ships are huge investments, companies had been cautious about replacing older vessels until new requirements for ballast and fuel systems were universally finalized. After the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard was sold to Aker in the 1990s to build Jones Act ships, dynamic methods replaced linear methods, reducing labor-related overhead and maximizing efficient ship construction. In recent years, companies have been replacing older Jones Act tonnage with new ships as fast as possible.

The shortage of icebreakers has nothing to do with the Jones Act. Icebreakers should have been routinely planned and built because America has interests in all polar regions; many waterways freeze, too. Failure to do so threatens our nation’s security. American shipyards could collaborate with foreign yards to update and expand our icebreaker fleet to meet sufficient levels.

Foreign-flagged ships safely make thousands of calls at U.S. ports each year only because Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security treat seafarers as if they are terrorists. The U.S. requires foreign mariners to have visas even if they are from countries whose citizens don’t need a visa to visit America on holiday! The Samuel Johnson quote “being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned” is more valid than ever today because it is difficult for both American and foreign seafarers to go ashore in U.S. ports. And because many regulatory practices are reciprocal, the noose is continually being tightened on mariners’ port time all over the world.

If the Jones Act is repealed, then authorities would be overwhelmed unless all immigration and border control requirements for foreign shipping companies were eliminated so these companies could effectively transport domestic cargo. This open-door policy would undercut truck and rail transport (because water transportation is more efficient than other modes) and lead to diminished environmental, maritime safety and training enforcement.

It’s also likely that without the Jones Act, the U.S. dollar would hemorrhage because the United States’ balance of trade deficit would skyrocket as foreign-built and -operated ships transported domestic cargo. Jones Act domestic trading requirements are necessary until the U.S. has a balance of trade surplus that enables our country to pay foreign companies to transport domestic goods.

It costs considerably more to employ American mariners because the United States is the only country where medical care is not a human right; thus, U.S. employers have to pay not only employees’ net earnings but also their health insurance costs, feeding huge profits at all layers of that industry. The U.S. is the only maritime nation that has not restructured its policies so that its shipping companies can compete with foreign ones, whose employee insurance costs are subsidized through a national health care system. Several other countries’ seafarers actually net more than American seafarers. If American mariners can’t make a decent living in peacetime, they’ll get a job ashore and won’t be available in an emergency.

Dismantling the Jones Act is a recipe for economic collapse and the erosion of national security. An expanded Maritime Security Program and strict enforcement of the Jones Act are necessary because it is most cost effective to subsidize active merchant ships with seasoned crews to ensure that America has sufficient reliable ocean transportation resources.