By Robin Respaut and Scott DiSavino
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico/NEW YORK (Reuters) – As Puerto Rico struggles with a lack of fuel, water and medical supplies following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, it is pressing the Trump administration to lift a prohibition on foreign ships delivering supplies from the U.S. mainland.
The island’s governor is pushing for the federal government to temporarily waive the Jones Act, a law requiring that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by U.S. owned-and-operated ships. President Donald Trump’s administration has so far not granted his request.
“We’re thinking about that,” Trump told reporters when asked about lifting the Jones Act restrictions on Wednesday. “But we have a lot of shippers and …. a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted, and we have a lot of ships out there right now.”
Many of the U.S. territory’s 3.4 million inhabitants are queuing for scarce supplies of gas and diesel to run generators as the island’s electrical grid remains crippled a week after Maria hit. Government-supplied water trucks have been mobbed.
Puerto Rico gets most of its fuel by ship from the United States, but one of its two main ports is closed and the other is operating only during the daytime.
“We expect them to waive it (the Jones Act),” Governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN on Wednesday, noting there was a brief waiver issued after Hurricane Irma, which was much less devastating as it grazed past the island en route for Florida earlier this month.
Members of Congress from both parties have supported an emergency waiver, he said.
The U.S. government has issued periodic Jones Act waivers following severe storms in the past, to allow the use of cheaper or more readily available foreign-flagged ships.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which waived the law after Irma and after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August, said on Wednesday it was considering a request by members of Congress for a waiver, but had not received any formal requests from shippers or other branches of the federal government.
Gregory Moore, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, an office of Homeland Security, said in a statement on Tuesday that an agency assessment showed there was “sufficient capacity” of U.S.-flagged vessels to move commodities to Puerto Rico.
“The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability,” he said.
LACK OF WATER, FUEL
Maria, the most…