Conflict & Justice

Trump lifts Jones Act, allowing more aid shipments to reach suffering Puerto Rico

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People carry containers that will be filled with water from a tank truck at an area hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, Sept. 26, 2017. 

Credit:

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

President Donald Trump lifted US shipping restrictions on storm-battered Puerto Rico Thursday, removing a legal obstacle blamed for slowing the disaster relief response to Hurricane Maria, the White House said.

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White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump waived the Jones Act in response to a request from the island's governor, Ricardo Rossello. 

Related: The federal emergency response in Puerto Rico has been slow, and there's a long way to go

"It will go into effect immediately," she told AFP.

The 1920 law restricts shipments between US ports to US-owned and operated cargo ships, thus preventing foreign-flagged ships from delivering relief aid to the US territory.

"We are grateful that our cries for justice were heard and that the president did the right thing and stood on the right side of history," San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said on CNN after the waiver was announced. 

Related: For Puerto Rico, the aftermath of Hurricane Maria 'looks like a humanitarian crisis'

Seven lawmakers led by Representative Nydia Velazquez of New York had urged Trump to waive the restrictions for a year in order to speed delivery of critically needed supplies to devastated Puerto Rico's 3.5 million residents.

The Jones Act restrictions were waived for Texas and Florida after they were hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma respectively, but not for Puerto Rico.

Critics of the law say it makes any shipment from the US mainland to Puerto Rico 30 percent more expensive than it would be from a foreign port.

Related: How to help Puerto Rico after Maria