Watch CBS News

Puerto Rico governor calls on U.S. to allow ship carrying vital diesel fuel to dock at hurricane-ravaged island

More than a week after Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico — knocking out water and power lines across the island — hundreds of thousands of the island's residents and businesses continued to experience blackouts on Monday. A ship carrying about 300,000 barrels of much-needed diesel fuel was scheduled to arrive in the hard-hit region on Sunday night, but has so far been unable to dock because of restrictions established by a shipping law that dates back roughly 100 years, reports CBS News lead national correspondent for "CBS Mornings" David Begnaud.

The story was first reported by Mardelis Jusino of Las Noticias Teleonce.

The Jones Act requires merchandise traveling between U.S. ports to be delivered on vessels that were primarily built in the U.S., and are owned and operated by Americans. Tariffs and taxes are imposed on foreign vessels that dock in U.S. ports.

The vessel currently stalled off the coast of Puerto Rico, called GH Parks, is sailing under the flag of Marshall Islands, the U.S. Coast Guard said. It departed Sunday from Texas City en route to Guayanilla, according to maritime tracking data, which shows that the vessel remained stalled off the coast of the southern port city just before midnight, more than six hours after its scheduled arrival time.

Because the ship is sailing under a foreign flag, it must request a Jones Act waiver from the U.S. government before delivering goods to Puerto Rico, the Coast Guard told CBS News. Puerto Rico ports director Joel Pizá, who confirmed that the ship is carrying 300,000 barrels of diesel, also said the request was pending late on Sunday.

Pizá confirmed the ship's position off the coast of Puerto Rico, noting its foreign flag and departure from Texas, in a Twitter thread posted early on Monday morning. Acknowledging that a request for a Jones Act waiver had been submitted to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he said that Puerto Rican government officials would be available to provide any information necessary to DHS as it processes the waiver.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierlusi has asked the U.S. government directly to grant the ship approval to enter the port and offload. Pierlusi said Monday that he called Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to intervene and expedite the request, so that the ship "can unload the fuel for the benefit of our people." 

A decision from DHS could come before the end of Monday. In a statement to CBS News, the department said that it "will continue to examine individual requests for Jones Act waivers on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the Maritime Administration, Departments of Defense, and Energy."

Exactly who owns and operates the GH Parks is unclear. While records list GY Shipco XII LLC and Synergy Maritime Private Limited as owner and operator, respectively, the Puerto Rican government told CBS News that it believed British Petroleum was connected to the diesel shipment. CBS News reached out to BP but has not received a response.

Peerless Oil & Chemicals, the agency that requested the diesel shipment from GH Parks, supplies diesel and gasoline to thousands of gas stations across Puerto Rico as well as hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, U.S. Navy and Puerto Rican government. The company's general manager, Luis Vázquez, told El Nuevo Dia that he requested the GH Parks route to Guayanilla in the aftermath of Fiona, and the government was aware of its impending arrival.

A man looks at a flooded street in the Juana Matos neighborhood of Catano, Puerto Rico, on September 19, 2022, after the passage of Hurricane Fiona.
A man looks at a flooded street in the Juana Matos neighborhood of Catano, Puerto Rico, on September 19, 2022, after the passage of Hurricane Fiona. AFP via Getty Images

Fiona caused catastrophic damage as it made landfall earlier this month in Puerto Rico, which is still coping with the repercussion caused by Hurricane Maria five years ago. That storm had lingering repercussions on Puerto Rico's power grid, and residents have become accustomed to outrageously high electric bills and rolling blackouts since then.

The Jones Act also complicated relief efforts following Hurricane Maria, but a waiver allowed for shipments of fuel and other aid during a 10-day window. This week's request for a Jones Act waiver has prompted bipartisan calls from members of Congress, with Utah Senator Mike Lee and New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez calling on the federal government to authorize the GH Parks' delivery. Velazquez recently petitioned Mayorkas to temporarily waive Jones Act requirements "to expedite supplies being shipped into the Island's ports in order to accelerate Puerto Rico's recovery from Hurricane Fiona."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.