Donald Trump has announced he will allow foreign owned ships to deliver relief supplies from US ports to Puerto Rico following a furore over his previous comments that it would upset American shipping firms.
Both Republicans and Democrats urged the President to waive the 1920 Jones Act, an obscure law which requires all goods carried between US ports to be transferred on US ships, saying it could help get desperately needed aid to the island after it was battered by Hurricane Maria.
After the White House had announced the act would be waived, Mr Trump said on Twitter: “The electric power grid in Puerto Rico is totally shot. Large numbers of generators are now on Island. Food and water on site.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke waived the law earlier this month to help ease fuel shortages in the Southeast following hurricanes Harvey and Irma. That order included Puerto Rico, but expired last week shortly after Hurricane Maria struck.
The Trump administration initially insisted the waiver was not needed because the US had enough ships to deliver goods but an unnamed official from the Department of Homeland Security warned there was a bottleneck with unloading cargo at the island’s damaged ports and getting supplies inland, as well as a shortage of diesel fuel.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr Trump said: “We’re thinking about that but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people… who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”
But both sides of Congress urged Mr Trump to agree to lift the ban, saying it would speed up and lower the cost of the recovery.
Several politicians have pointed out that it is much more expensive to ship goods to Puerto Rican ports than it is in nearby Jamaica or the Dominican Republic.
They have also pointed out that the US Virgin Islands, which have also been hit hard by the hurricanes which have battered the Caribbean in recent months, was given a permanent waiver in the original act.
Republican senator John McCain said: “These emergency waivers have been valuable to speed up recovery efforts in the impacted regions.
“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster.”
Nydia Velazquez, a New York Democrat who was born in Puerto Rico, also urged Mr Trump to approve…