Mauritius Looks to Renew Controversial Diego Garcia Lease

Mauritius Looks to Renew Controversial Diego Garcia Lease

One of the most remote pieces of real estate in the world has become something of an international flashpoint over the years.

In 2019, the UN affirmed that the Chagos Archipelago, which includes Diego Garcia, is Mauritian territory. So, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth recently announced that his offer of a 99-year lease was still on the table. The Mauritians want the Americans to make full use of the remote island. “We are aware of the importance that the U.S. attaches to the base in Diego Garcia,” remarked Mauritian UN Ambassador Jagdish Koonjul. “We do appreciate the fact that the base has been used essentially to protect the oil routes and to ensure security in the Indo-Pacific region.”

The UK and Mauritius have long claimed Diego Garcia. India has asserted some territorial interests in the area, as well.

About Deigo Garcia

Since the Protugese “discovered” Diego Garcia in 1512, the tiny island has been a hunk of rock that no one particularly wanted. But no one wanted the other guy to have it, either.

The island group remained uninhabited by anyone except a few luckless shipwrecked individuals and hopelessly lost fishermen until the 1700s, when the French took control of Mauritius, an island group about 1,200 miles east of Kenya in the Indian Ocean. Finally, in 1778, the French established the first permanent human settlement on Diego Garcia. The colonists, who lived in about a dozen huts, fished and collected coconuts. Over the next decade, the island became a leper colony and the headquarters of a large coconut and sea cucumber plantation.

After the Napoleonic Wars, the British took over Mauritius and Diego Garcia. Much later, during World War II, the British built an RAF base on the island. That base established Diego Garcia’s military and strategic value.

In the 1960s, the British began leaving its colonial possessions in Africa. That included Mauritius. However, the British bought Diego Garcia and a few other remote islands. They planned to convert these possessions into self-sufficient military installations and sell them to the Americans. The self-sufficiency element failed to pan out, and the grandiose plan collapsed.

Nevertheless, the Americans remained interested. It had virtually no naitive population, it was far from any security threat, and no one really wanted it. So, in 1966, the Americans purchased a 50-year lease. Navy construction battalions arrived shortly thereafter, once a controversial effort to clear the naitive Chagossians was complete. The base became more important in the 1970s, largely due to the fall of Saigon, the Iranian hostage crisis, and some other regional events.

Later still, during the early stages of the Global War on Terror, the CIA allegedly used Diego Garcia as a black-ops interrogation site. There is not much evidence to support these allegations, other than a 2015 admission from the U.S. State Department that the CIA conducted some “nefarious activities” on the island.

What Contractors Do There

There is not much of a need for security contractors on Diego Garcia. Construction and maintenance contractors are another matter entirely.

During the Gulf War and Iraq War, Diego Garcia was a long-range air base that supported coalition troops. Additionally, Diego Garcia is about 3,500 miles from China. That is roughly the same distance from Guam to China. So, Diego Garcia, much like Guam, could be an important support base in a war against China.

So, construction contractors are very busy on Diego Garcia. B-1 bombers and other large aircraft require extensive facilities, like huge hangers and long runways. It is cheaper and more efficient to use contractors on these projects. Many of the Seabies who built the first military facilities in the 1970s are probably still collecting pension checks today. Once the project ends, if contractors did the work, the Pentagon’s financial commitment ends as well. Additionally, there is no need to train contractors. When they arrive, they are ready to go.

Furthermore, almost every item or person who comes to or leaves Diego Garcia is on a ship. So, there is an intense need for experienced longshoremen. These individuals deal with almost every conceivable type of cargo, from garbage to nuclear warheads. The Defense Base Act is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. So, the administrative law judges who often hear DBA claims are very well-versed in this area. More on that below.

There is also a need for security contractors in Diego Garcia. Many of them are more like traffic cops. Since many contractors are former law enforcement officers, they are usually well-suited for such duties. That is assuming they truly want to get away from it all.

Contractor Injuries on Diego Garcia

In terms of medical care, small installations like Diego Garcia usually do not have much more than an aid station. So, almost all serious injury cases must be medically evacuated to Africa or India. Both these places are very far away. As a result, if contractors fall or or sustain another serious injury, their injuries could be critical by the time they receive the medical attention they need. Once they arrive at these places, most DBA victims can choose their own doctors.

Compensation is usually available for medevac and all other reasonably necessary medical bills. Additionally, the DBA usually replaces lost wages, even if the victim is permanently disabled and unable to work again.

Procedurally, most injured victims must immediately report their injuries. This requirement is usually not an issue in trauma injury claims. However, in occupational disease claims, like job-related hearing loss, this requirement is problematic, unless the victim has a strong attorney.

If the claim is not resolved within a few weeks, a mediator usually meets with both sides and tries to facilitate a settlement. These settlement conferences occasionally bear fruit, but most claims proceed to the next level.

This level is an administrative law hearing, which is much like a trial. Attorneys can introduce evidence, make legal arguments, and challenge evidence. Since attorneys have free reign, many claims settle on victim-friendly terms prior to the administrative law hearing.

For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.