The Art of Dredging

Dredging and shipping

The Jones Act


Dredging in the U.S.A. amounts to about 200-250 million m3 a year.

All dredging inside the U.S.A. is executed solely by U.S. dredging companies, not by foreign companies.

Why ?

The answer can be found in the "Jones Act".

Dredgers working in the U.S. must comply with the 1920 Merchant Marine Act (this is: the Jones Act), the Foreign Dredge Act of 1906, and the Shipping Act of 1916.

The U.S. Congress and Supreme Court have confirmed these laws repeatedly, and there is clear support amongst the American public, lawmakers and the interested parties (U.S. ship operators, U.S., U.S. seamen) that the Jones Act is there to stay. The Jones Act is written in stone.


The Jones Act is a cabotage law. It regulates shipping between ports in the U.S.A. .

 Typical Great Lakes merchant ship.








Merchant Marine vessels used for for transport within the national boundaries must be owned by U.S. citizens, operated by U.S. nationals (75% of the crew), U.S. flagged and build by an American shipyard.

Operating a ship under the Jones Act comes at a premium; considering operating costs and the price of a newbuilt ship. But that ship can subsequently trade within a regulated domestic space (U.S. territory), where no foreign ships are allowed.

If the Jones Act was removed, U.S. domestic shipping would crumble under the competition of foreign flags, operating with lower costs, and often with subsidies from foreign flags.

Ideas behind the Jones Act were:

  • support national shipbuilding industry
  • give social protection and benefits to injured or killed seafarers
  • support a strong Merchant Marine, with strategic importance to the U.S., during wartime
  • upgrade safety requiremnets beyond international standards



Due to the Jones Act, domestic shipping in the U.S. is far more expensive than international shipping rates.

U.S. shipbuilding industry has suffered as a result. Ship operators are given incentives to maintain veteran U.S.-built vessels rather than replace them with new tonnage. In addition, U.S. shipyards have adapted to building only those ships that are needed by operators, with price tags that reflect their all-American workforces. U.S. shipbuilders have long since priced themselves out of the international market for merchant ships, and are merely surviving on military orders.

 Trailer with sidecasting capability "McFarland", operated by U.S.A.C.E.









A 2001 U.S. Department of Commerce study indicates that U.S. shipyards built only 1 percent of the world's large commercial ships. Ships are virtually never ordered in U.S. shipyards unless to serve as a Jones-Act-ship.

The U.S.-flagged international shipping fleet is almost non-nexistent. It's economically impossible for U.S.-flagged, -built, and -crewed ships to compete internationally with vessels built and registered in other nations with crews willing to work for wages that are a fraction of what their U.S. counterparts earn.

U.S. deepsea carriers, trading internationally, get subsidies. If not, they would have been wiped out already.



Every dredger operating within the U.S. is subject to the Jones Act.

This has led to a closed market, not subject to foreign competition, where some 300 dredging companies operate, widely scattered, with an outdated fleet, mainly small equipment (largest trailer dredger is "Wheeler", operated by the U.S.A.C.E., with a capacity of 8000 m3).

Research and development is mainly focused on environmental and geotechnical issues, little on upgrading efficienty of dredging equipment.

Investment in new equipment is almost nil, thus reflecting the situation of the US. Merchant fleet.


TSHD Essayons, 4587 m3, built 1983, one of the largest trailer dredgers in the U.S. dredging inventory, but less than impressive.

Note the size of the whole ship relative to the size of the hopper.




Compare this with the situation on the international dredging market; where four big players (Van Oord, Boskalis, DEME en JDN) take 60% market share.  These companies have evolved from a group of twenty Dutch and Belgian companies back in the eighties. Through a process of fusion, acquisition and expansion they became global players, strengthened by mutual competition. Their fleets are continuously expanded and updated, with cutting-edge technology.

The U.S. dredging markets is lagging behind some 25 years to the situation on the international scene.

Dredging in the Kill Van Kull, New Jersey

However: the U.S.A. is in need for remedial, maintenance and capital dredging, and definitely lacks the options given by large-scale capabilities.

Take -as an example- the situation on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

New Orleans was flooded by hurricane Katrina in 2005.

This hurricane was by no means exceptional; it was a force 3 cyclone that did not bull-eyed New Orleans, but merely grazed the city. Waterlevel surges at New Orleans were comparable to a force 2 cyclone, apretty common event.

Nevertheless the waterbarriers of Orleans breached. 

Levees and dykes around New Orleans were designed to withstand a statistical 100-year watersurge. (Compare this to the statistical 10.000 year waterlevel to which the waterbarriers around the Netherlands were designed for).


 New Orleans, hurricane Gustav 2008, the levees are tested to the limits - once again.







Marc Van de Velde


Read these articles on the sorrow state of stormdefences around New Orleans:,28804,1646611_1646683_1648904,00.html

More on the Jones Act:

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