How the Jones Act Affects Cruise Ships

How the Jones Act Affects Cruise Ships

Jun 14, 2019 | Jones Act Lawyer

The Jones Act is a set of laws about maritime vessels, their workers, passengers, and freight. It is often referred to by its European counterpart name of the Cabotage Law (pronounced like sabotage).

The Jones Act has a portion of the law that specifically covers cruise ships and their passengers. This law, the Passenger Vessel Services Act or PVSA, applies to ships carrying passengers, versus ships carrying cargo. 

Learn more about the Jones Act Law/PVSA and how it applies to cruise ships in the U.S. 

Jones Act and the PVSA

The Jones Act applies to vessels carrying merchandise from one U.S. port to another. If a ship will move merchandise between U.S. ports it must be built, owned, and a documented vessel. So, if a ship is moving goods within the U.S., they must abide by all U.S. maritime laws. 

The Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) applies to cruise ships because cruise ships move passengers. The PVSA prevents a ship from taking passengers from one U.S. port and dropping them off or having them exit the ship in another port. The only way a cruise ship can do this is to be registered in the U.S. and fall under all U.S. maritime laws. 

How Do These Affect Cruise Ships?

Most cruise ships operating out of U.S. ports are not registered in the U.S. This means cruise lines must carefully structure their itineraries

The Jones Act for cruise ships has a few exceptions.  If they start in one U.S. port and visit a distant port (one not in North America), then they can depart at a different U.S. port. For example, a passenger could board in Miami, then stop in Bonaire and Curacao (part of South America), travel through the Panama Canal and drop passengers off in a port in California. 

Another exception is if a cruise ship is not registered in the U.S. and leaves from a U.S. port then it may not drop passengers at a different U.S. port, but can still stop at a second U.S. port.  For example, if passengers board in Ft. Lauderdale for a cruise, they can stop in the Florida Keys, but it cannot be the final destination. The ships may do this only if they visit at least one foreign port during the journey.

Penalties for Breaking the PVSA 

Cruise lines are motivated to avoid breaking the Jones Act/PVSA because if they don’t abide by the law they are fined per passenger. If the ship leaves from Ft.Lauderdale, stops in the Florida Keys and a passenger exits the ship without returning the cruise line is fined (not the passenger).

If passenger S boards a ship in say New Jersey. They get off the ship in Maine for an excursion and are injured. They are staying off the ship for medical treatment.

The person traveling with them also exits the ship. The ship is fined for both passengers leaving on a different U.S. port than where they started. 

There are several situations where cruise lines can apply for waivers for the Jones Act/PVSA.

Cabotage Law and Its Effects for Cruise Ships in the U.S.

The Cabotage Law or Jones Act Laws require cruise ships to not only carefully structure their itineraries, but also to closely keep track of their passengers at each port. Cruise lines are motivated to know they have boarded all of their passengers, especially at U.S. ports, to avoid fines from these laws. 

Learn more about how the Jones Act affects the maritime industry and its workers by checking out our blog