Security Contractors were Former Navy Seals
A puzzling and tragic story has come out of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa. Two former Navy Seals, who were security contractors aboard the Maersk Alabama were found dead in a cabin on the ship, which was in port. The two contractors worked for Trident Group, a private security firm founded by another former Navy Seal. They provided on board security for the Maersk line, which has been targeted by pirates in the past.
Many of us are familiar with this particular ship, as it was the ship boarded by Somali pirates in 2009, and the captain & crew were held hostage. This story has been told by Hollywood in the Tom Hanks movie, Captain Phillips. Ironically, these tragic deaths have taken place on the same ship, and these events are disturbing.
Former military members often work in these dangerous jobs.
It is not uncommon for former members of the military to work for civilian contractors after their separation from the military. It is a chance to put their military skills to use for significantly more money than military pay. It is also a chance to travel to different locations around the world. These private contractor jobs can be very appealing, and a good way to make some serious money.
For their part, the private contracting firms love having former military on their payroll. They are well trained, disciplined, and not afraid of placing themselves in harm’s way – all thanks to their military experience. The contracting firms can charge top dollar for providing their services, and can pay their employees very well. This is extremely attractive to prospective employees!
It all sounds like a win-win situation, but that view discounts the dangers that can be present when working in these types of jobs. Very often, the assignment is in a high-risk area, which greatly increases the risk of injury or death. If an injury or death occurs, there are several laws which would help compensate the employee or family for that loss.
If the employee is (or has been) working for a United States contractor overseas, then the Defense Base Act would apply. This Act is a type of workers’ compensation for those working for a private employer overseas on a U.S. military base, or land used by the military. It also applies to those working for contractors outside the U.S. in public works projects. There are MANY such projects ongoing in parts of Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and other parts of the world. Also, this Act applies to those working on national defense or military projects, as well as those working for the USO or other social welfare group which provides services to the military abroad.
A different law, the Jones Act, applies to those working on ships. The Jones Act is not a worker’s compensation law, such as the Defense Base Act, but rather a maritime law providing compensation to those injured or killed as a result of the negligence of the captain, crew or ship owner. Because the former Seals were working on board a ship when the deaths occurred, Maritime law would apply. Whether their families will be entitled to any compensation as a result of their deaths remains to be seen.
There are still so many unanswered questions in the case of the former Navy Seals on the Maersk Alabama that it is difficult to say at this point what the outcome of this situation will be. There have been reports that drugs and drug paraphernalia were found in the cabin where the bodies were found. The causes of death which have been reported are respiratory failure and possible heart attacks. If it is determined that the men died as a result of their own actions, then very likely their families will not receive any compensation under the Jones Act.
Speculation has been rampant in this case, and until answers are obtained, will continue to be so. Why would two former Seals, who are known for their physical fitness, be doing drugs? What if the investigation has been manipulated, or tainted? The Maersk line has been sued by some members of the crew of the Maersk Alabama over the piracy event in 2009. What if someone from the ship planted the drugs to avoid paying the families their due under Jones Act?
The Coast Guard is conducting its own investigation, as required by American law. A spokesman said the deaths “do not appear to be criminal in nature, related to vessel operations, the material condition of the ship or their duties as security personnel.” That would appear to take this matter out of the Jones Act purview.
As more information becomes available, it will be more clear what rights the families of these two men will have. It may be some time before all the facts in this case are known, and longer to determine whether the families will have any right to compensation. From the information at hand right now, it does not appear so, but developing facts could change the outcome for the families. In any event, this tragedy should be a cautionary tale for those working abroad in dangerous areas.