Major Fire at Major Kuwaiti Oil Refinery

Major Fire at Major Kuwaiti Oil Refinery

Smoke billowed from the sprawling Mina al-Ahmadi oil refinery as the blaze inside caused multiple serious injuries. No one is sure what caused the fire.

Eyewitnesses said they heard a large explosion at the refinery, which went online in 1949. Several videos posted to social media show black smoke pouring out of a large hole in the facility. Nevertheless, officials from KNPC (Kuwait National Petroleum Company) claim the fire was localized to one area of the refinery and that the blaze should not cause any significant disruptions. Mina al-Ahmadi refines about 450,000 barrels of petroleum a day. An even larger facility is scheduled to open later in 2021. 

Major fires also broke out at Mina al-Ahmadi in 2000 and 2008. A gas leak caused the 2000 fire, which killed four people.

Situation in Kuwait

The economic and political stability of this Arabian Gulf emirate are quite important to U.S. interests in the region. In most countries, people view American troops as an occupying force, regardless of their actual purpose. But Kuwaitis have a different attitude, at least in public. In fact, the more installations the Americans develop in Kuwait, the safer many people feel.

Unfortunately, the economic and political situation has somewhat deteriorated in Kuwait. The repeated Mina al-Ahmadi fires might be a symptom of that deterioration.

In the early 2000s, despite some questions about its treatment of foreigners and ethnic minorities, Kuwait was one of the shining lights of the Arabian Gulf Coast. The economy was booming, and women won the franchise in 2005. A year later, controversial Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah replaced the ailing Saad Al-Sabah. Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber constant fights with parliament triggered a number of cabinet reshuffles. These moves decreased foreign confidence in Kuwait. Because of lower foreign investment, the country became almost entirely dependent on oil. 

Nevertheless, while storm clouds gathered, the country remained in good shape. Between 2006 and 2009, Kuwait’s Human Development Index score was the highest one in the Arab world.

Things started coming apart in the mid 2010s. In 2014, the Obama Administration formally accused Kuwait of sponsoring terrorism. Such allegations had been whispered since the 1990s. From that time until the end of the decade, many sources claimed that Kuwait was the world’s largest terrorist funding organization.

A 2015 suicide bombing at a Shia mosque in Kuwait City killed 27 people and seriosuly injured hundreds more. Survivors filed a major lawsuit, accusing the government of negligence. The oil price collapse in the late 2010s effectively crippled Kuwait’s economy. By 2020, the country had a $45 billion budget deficit, an unheard of amount for oil-rich Middle Eastern nations.

In all the chaos, Kuwait’s relationship with China has improved. The two nations have worked together on a number of huge infrastructure projects. In 2016, China became Kuwait’s largest trading partner.

Types of Deployment-Related Injuries

The many private military contractors in Kuwait continue to do their jobs in this environment. The huge U.S. military installations in Kuwait require constant upgrades, repairs, and renovations. Contractors also maintain drones, cruise missiles, and other high-tech weapons. Furthermore, private contractors did much of the work on the aforementioned projects, most notably the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway, which connects northern Kuwait and Kuwait City, along with improvements to the Kuwait National Cultural District.

Security is a concern at these projects as well as in the country as a whole. The aforementioned mosque bombing was almost a 9/11 event in terms of its scope in proportion to the country’s size and its psychological effects on the people.

Security and non-security contractors are susceptible to various injuries in Kuwait. These wounds fall into two major categories:

  • Trauma Injuries: Falls and assaults are the most common private military contractor trauma injuries. A fall from as little as four stories high is normally fatal. The assaulting party could be a co-worker or an Islamic militant.
  • Occupational Diseases: Hearing loss and repetitive stress injuries are the most common occupational diseases. These conditions develop over the course of more than one work shift. Sounds as low as 35 decibels, which is basically a lawnmower engine, could cause hearing loss. As for repetitive stress, knees, ankles, and other joints can only absorb so much bending, stooping, kneeling, and lifting.

Private military contractors are usually former servicemembers or first responders. These individuals often have pre-existing conditions, like service-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or prior trauma injuries, like a bad knee. Private non-military contractors must often work in dangerous environments. The repeated refinery fires in Kuwait might not have happened in the United States. American workplace safety laws are much stronger than their Kuwaiti counterparts.

Injury Compensation Available

These injury victims need compensation for their lost wages and money to pay medical bills. The Defense Base Act addresses both needs. Most injured contractors receive two-thirds of their Average Weekly Wage for the duration of their temporary or permanent disabilities. Furthermore, the DBA insurance company is legally responsible for all reasonably necessary medical expenses.

These benefits are available, but the DBA insurance company does not simply give them away. In fact, the DBA benefits process is sometimes quite protracted.

Initially, most victims must immediately notify their supervisors about their injuries. Best practices dictate that victims should always report all injuries or illnesses, even if they do not seem serious or appear to be work-related. Failure to provide notification could derail a future injury claim. Furthermore, in most cases, victims can withdraw these claims at any time without penalty.

A few weeks later, a mediator presides at a settlement conference between the victim’s Defense Base Act attorney and the insurance company’s lawyers. Other than a brief, informal opening statement, the mediator usually considers nothing except the medical records and other paper in the file. Occasionally, if there are no major issues regarding responsibility or damages, DBA claims settle at this juncture. However, almost all proceed to the next level.

At the next level, an Administrative Law Judge presides over an evidentiary hearing. Usually, the ALJ is affiliated with the Department of Labor, the government agency which administers the Defense Base Act. So, this individual is at least a somewhat neutral referee. At the hearing, lawyers may introduce evidence, challenge evidence, and make formal legal arguments. As a result, the victim winning percentage at these hearings is rather high.

Insurance company lawyers know they often face long odds at these hearings. Therefore, a number of DBA claims settle out of court and on victim-friendly terms.

Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, PA for more information about DBA benefits.