Jones act--old, new?


Here is a matter that will date me, so my apologies to those who are current and profesional. Many years ago, vagrant and trying to ship on an ore carrier, unable to get work because of a steel strike and recession, so poor that when my skidroad hotel burned I slept in the snow behnd the Cleveland Public Library for five nights in a row and then checked into a city jail just to avoid freezing and starvation, I was informed by a purser who seemed to have many survival skills that the Jones Act covered my situation in two respects. One, as the possessor of a Z-Card in a port city, I could not be arrested for vagrancy. Two, as the possessor of a Z-Card my luggage, considered as a seaman’s working gear, could not be confiscated for non-payment of room rent. Now, I’m under the impression that the position of the merchant seaman under the Jones Act has changed immensely. It used to be–at least, I think it used to be–that certain problems couldn’t follow you to sea: alimony, child suport, old girl friends, certain kinds of judgements, and so forth. In any case, what IS the case now? Is it possible, anymore, to run away to sea?



I’ve heard before that a seaman’s wages cannot be garnished for anything except child support and IRS debts. But I’ve never known if this is actually true. But once you put it in a bank account, all bets are off. I did once sail with an OS who had a civil judgement against him, and he said he would not pay it. His lawyer had advised him his wages were safe, so he always took cash and didn’t have a bank account. Maybe some of the legal eagles on here can confirm if this is correct.


The garnish matter, that’s an important one. Social Secuity can’t be garnished, normally, but isn’t safe from child support, alimony, and certain debts to government agencies such as the IRS (from whom nothing is safe), but such money is otherwise (as a legal matter) safe in a bank account as long as the SS funds aren’t comingled with other funds. In other words, it’s essential that you maintain a separate bank account for the SS funds. I suppose it might be the same for a seaman’s wages, if those wages have any protection under the Jones Act. A bank has informed me that this means that you can’t, yourself, put any money in it except for the periodic SS deposits. You can’t, for example, withdraw a hundred and then change your mind, maybe because you had just written too large a check an hour ago, and put back fifty. Otherwise, the bank, poor thing, will get confused and be unsure of the nature of the account. (Think Bank AM, here, or CitiGroup, and you’ll know what I mean). And to be safe, you have that deposit made electronically. You’d have to do the same, I think, with seaman wages. And the bank has to know the purpose of the account and put the account in a special category. Of course, if the bank is stupid or malicious… Does that happen?