US boat patrols waters around new offshore wind farms to protect jobs

NEW BEDFORD, Massachusetts — (TodayNews) — Early this week, ocean waters off the coast of Rhode Island and New York showed signs of a nascent wind industry everywhere. Giant vertical steel pipes protruded from the water, waiting for ships to raise turbines that would produce electricity driven by the wind.

The gray ship of the battleship was on the hunt. US shipping companies and sailors fear they will be left behind in this buildup of offshore wind in the US. So Aaron Smith, president of the Offshore Marine Service Association, was looking through binoculars to see if ships serving the new wind farms were using foreign-flagged ships instead of American-made ships with American crews.

“It really upsets me when I think of the men and women I know who can do this job. American citizens, fully capable, stay at home while foreign citizens go to work in US waters,” Smith said. “It’s not fair.”

The ship is named “Jones Law Executor” in honor of the century-old law that makes the carriage of goods between US points reserved for US-built, US-owned, and registered vessels. Motto: “We will watch.” Smith documented the operations to show them to federal law enforcement and members of Congress.

The Offshore Marine Services Association says it strongly supports offshore wind power. Many of its member companies are already working for it. Smith said these efforts are about securing their future – decades of work and investment. The US may need about 2,000 of the most powerful turbines to meet its goals of increasing offshore wind power, drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels to protect the atmosphere, and reducing climate change.

The Enforcer has made several trips to where the Danish energy company Ørsted is developing the South Fork Wind project using the Eversource utility. It will likely be the first commercial-scale wind farm in the US to open.

Approaching the site on Tuesday, Smith saw a large Cypriot-flagged crane vessel, Belgian-flagged small craft, and US fishing and supply vessels offshore near the turbine bases. The Associated Press was the only media on board.

The US Navy does not yet have large ships designed for offshore wind power, to install foundations and turbines. But some of the foreign-flagged ships operating in windy areas along the east coast are tugboats and small supply vessels. US ship operators told the AP they have similar vessels that can do the job.

Oersted responded that 75% of the vessels supporting South Fork Wind’s offshore construction are US-flagged, including barges, tugs, crew transports and fishing vessels that monitor safety and marine mammals. But larger US-flagged offshore windcraft have yet to be built. Despite this, American union workers are working on the installation vessels for South Fork Wind, AP said.

“As the US industry continues to evolve, we are developing our designs to include as many US workers, contractors, suppliers and ships as possible. We are proud that South Fork Wind is deploying hundreds of American seafarers and union workers to work at sea in a variety of roles,” Brian Stockton, head of regulation at Ørsted, said in a statement Thursday.

Stockton added that Oersted’s offshore activities were in line with the provisions of the Jones Act.

Smith said that day that he saw no clear violations of the Jones Act, no “smoking guns.” In order to file a case under the Jones Act with the Customs and Border Protection, the association would need to see several stages of activity, watching the ship for weeks, if not months. You will need to show the loading of goods on a ship in the port, their transportation to an offshore site and return empty.

In the past, the association has also screened oil and gas sites for foreign vessels. He first chartered an Enforcer from Harvey Gulf International Marine in late 2021.

Both wind and oil and gas companies can seek waivers of the Jones Act by citing national defense and the absence of US vessels, or obtain a ruling from customs that a particular transaction is permitted using a foreign vessel.

But Smith said he believes offshore wind developers are violating the spirit of the law. He said he was worried that investors would not finance the construction of ships if they were going to compete with foreign ships with lower daily rates, mainly because foreign crews could be paid less. This would create a cycle where developers continue to use foreign ships because there are no American ships.

The association wants to break that cycle as the industry gains momentum, Smith said. By 2025, federal officials expect to review at least 16 plans to build and operate commercial offshore wind farms.

“That’s a ton of work we could do,” Smith said, “and a ton of well-paying jobs.”

Randy Adams owns Sea Support Ventures in Cutoff, Louisiana. Its vessels carry out geological exploration of oil and gas. He wants to do the same for a clean energy transition, but hasn’t done so yet.

“I’m just worried that our industry will miss out on the wind farm job,” he said. “I can’t say we’re being shut out of it, but we’re definitely not at the top of the totem pole.”

As for the Jones Act Enforcer, Smith plans to moor it in the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, until August, visiting two commercial-scale wind farms. Ørsted installs 12 turbines. Another developer, Vineyard Wind, is building a 62-turbine wind farm 15 miles (24 km) off the coast of Massachusetts.

Vineyard Wind said in a statement Thursday that its project complies with all US laws, including the Jones Act, and fully supports the US maritime and shipbuilding industries.

Before arriving in Massachusetts, the Enforcer was located off the coast of Virginia, where Dominion Energy plans to build an offshore wind farm. Smith checked to see if foreign vessels were surveying the area for unexploded ordnance, and said yes, despite the fact that at least four of his member companies applied for the job.

The Dominion told AP that these ships do not carry goods between US points, so they are compliant. The company said US vessels have been given survey, reconnaissance, equipment and technician transport jobs.

In Texas, Dominion is also currently building Charybdis, the first offshore wind turbine to comply with the Jones Act, and says it strongly supports the law. Oersted will charter this ship.

Ørsted is also investing in Eco Edison, the first US-built offshore wind vessel currently under construction in Louisiana, and five more crew carriers under construction in Rhode Island.

Sam Giberga is Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Hornbeck Offshore Services in Covington, Louisiana. Its supply and multi-purpose support vessels are primarily used by the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico. He said they were initially excited about the promise of offshore wind because it was clean energy that would create jobs and businesses. But to him, it begins to feel like a broken promise. The company recently lost a tender for the purchase of a foreign ship.

“We are a maritime power. Always were. This is the next great maritime frontier, and we will not be able to overcome it,” said Giberga. “Why would we allow it?” ___

The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about the AP Climate Initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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