NEW BEDFORD (Massachusetts) (AP). -- In the early hours of this morning, in the ocean waters near the coasts New York and Rhode Island, there were signs everywhere of a nascent industry. The water was filled with giant upright tubes of steel, waiting to be hoisted by ships that would then lift up wind turbines.
A gray battleship was on the prowl. Marine companies and mariners in the United States are worried that they will be left behind as offshore wind grows. Aaron Smith, the president of the Offshore Marine Service Association was using binoculars in order to check whether the ships that were servicing the wind farms used foreign-flagged ships instead of U.S. made ships with American crews.
It makes me angry when I think of the men and woman I know who are capable of doing this job. Smith stated that American citizens who are fully capable of doing the work, sit at home, while foreigners go to work on U.S. waters. 'It's unfair."
The Jones Act Enforcer is the name of the ship, which is named after a century-old US law that states that only vessels built, owned, and registered in the USA are allowed to transport goods between U.S. ports. Motto: "We'll Be Watching." Smith documented operations to show federal law enforcement officials, and members of Congress.
Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA) says that it supports offshore wind energy. Several of its members are already involved. Smith stated that this effort was about securing the future of their companies -- decades worth of investments and jobs. The U.S. may need 2,000 of its most powerful turbines in order to achieve its goal of increasing offshore wind power to reduce its fossil fuel use and protect the environment.
The Enforcer has made multiple trips to the South Fork Wind Project, where the Danish energy company Orsted and the utility Eversource are developing it. This is likely to be the first U.S. wind farm of commercial scale.
Smith approached the site on Tuesday and saw several vessels: a large ship under the Cyprus flag; smaller vessels flying the Belgian flag; and U.S. offshore fishing vessels and supply vessels. The Associated Press, the only media outlet on board, was present.
There are no massive vessels in the U.S. fleet that can install foundations or turbines offshore. Some of the foreign flagged vessels that are working in wind development zones along the East Coast include tugs and small supply ships. The AP was told by U.S. ship owners that they have vessels similar to those used in this area.
Orsted replied that 75% the vessels supporting South Fork Wind’s offshore construction were U.S. flagged, including barges and tugs as well as crew transport vessels, fishing vessels, and vessels that monitor marine mammals and safety. The larger U.S. flagged offshore wind vessels have not yet been built. South Fork Wind told the AP that American union workers are on the South Fork Wind installation vessels.
While the U.S. Industry continues to mature we design our projects so that as many American workers and contractors as possible can be involved. We also use American suppliers, contractors, and vessels. South Fork Wind has put hundreds of American union workers and mariners to work in various roles at sea,' Bryan Stockton said in a Thursday statement.
Stockton said that Orsted's offshore works comply with Jones Act provisions.
Smith stated that he did not see any clear violations of the Jones Act on this particular day. There was no "smoking weapon." To make a case under the Jones Act to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the association must observe a ship at various stages, for several weeks, if not even months. The association would have to demonstrate the loading of merchandise on a ship, transportation to offshore sites and return empty.
The association has in the past also searched for foreign vessels at oil and gas sites. The Enforcer was chartered from Harvey Gulf International Marine for the first time in late 2021.
Wind and oil companies can request waivers from the Jones Act citing national security and non-availability of U.S. ships, or obtain a Customs ruling that allows a particular transaction to be conducted using a foreign vessel.
Smith believes that offshore wind developers violate the spirit of the law. He is concerned that investors will not finance the construction of offshore vessels if they are going to compete with foreign vessels offering cheaper day rates. This is largely due to lower wages for foreign crews. This would lead to a vicious cycle in which developers continue to use foreign vessels as there are no U.S. ships available.
Smith stated that the association is working to break this cycle as soon as the industry grows. By 2025, federal officials will review at least 16 plans for construction and operation of commercial offshore wind energy installations.
Smith replied, 'We could do a lot of work and create a lot of well-paying positions.'
Randy Adams is the owner of Sea Support Ventures, located in Cut Off (Louisiana). His vessels are used to conduct geological surveys in search of oil and gas. He has not yet done the same with the clean energy shift, but he wants to.
He said: 'I am just worried that our industry will miss out on the work of wind farms.' I can't say that we are being excluded, but we certainly aren't at the top of totem pole.
Smith intends to visit the two wind farm sites at commercial scale with the Jones Act Enforcer. Orsted will install 12 turbines. Vineyard Wind is the other developer. It's building a wind farm with 62 turbines 15 miles (24 km) off of Massachusetts coast.
Vineyard Wind stated in a press release on Thursday that it fully supports American maritime and shipbuilding industries and adheres to all U.S. law, including the Jones Act.
Enforcer, before arriving in Massachusetts was near the coast of Virginia. Dominion Energy is planning an offshore wind farm. Smith wanted to know if there were any foreign vessels surveying the area looking for unexploded ordnance. He said that they were, even though at least four member companies had bid on the project.
Dominion informed the AP that these vessels do not transport merchandise between U.S.-based points and are therefore compliant. The company claimed that U.S. vessels were used for surveying, scouting and hauling equipment as well as transporting technicians.
Dominion, a Texas-based company, is currently building Charybdis in Texas, the first offshore wind-installation vessel that complies with the Jones Act. It says it supports the Act. Orsted will be chartering that ship.
Orsted also invests in the Eco Edison, a vessel that is currently being constructed in Louisiana to serve as an offshore wind service operation vessel. Five more crew transfer vessels are being built in Rhode Island.
Sam Giberga, executive vice president and chief counsel of Hornbeck Offshore Services located in Covington (Louisiana), is a lawyer. The oil and gas industries in the Gulf of Mexico primarily use its supply vessels and multipurpose support ships. He said that initially, they were excited about the promise of offshore winds because it was clean energy which would create jobs and businesses. For him, the offshore wind project is starting to feel more like a broken commitment. Recently, the company lost a bid.
We are a maritime country. It's always been that way. Giberga said, "This is the next great frontier in maritime exploration and we won't get to experience it." Why would we do that? ___
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