Mattis Allows Foreign-Flagged Ships to Bring Supplies to Puerto Rico

People sit on both sides of a destroyed bridge that crossed over the San Lorenzo de Morovis river, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico, Sept. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
People sit on both sides of a destroyed bridge that crossed over the San Lorenzo de Morovis river, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico, Sept. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made relief to Puerto Rico a matter of national defense Thursday to allow President Donald Trump to suspend a law that was preventing more commercial shipping from reaching the island devastated by Hurricane Maria.

The Defense Department also said that the hospital ship USNS Comfort, which had been expected to take about a week to bring on crew and supplies, was now expected to leave port in Norfolk, Virginia, for Puerto Rico on Friday.

Mattis' action on Puerto Rico allowed the Department of Homeland Security, with Trump's approval, to suspend the Jones Act, which requires goods shipped between U.S. port to be carried on U.S.-owned and operated vessels.

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The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, known as the Jones Act, was suspended from Sept. 8 through Sept. 22 to allow foreign-flagged shipments to Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

When asked Wednesday about another Jones Act suspension, President Donald Trump said "Well, we're thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don't want the Jones Act lifted."

On Thursday morning, the Trump administration changed course.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a tweet that Trump "has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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