Private Military Contractors and Maritime Security Issues

Private Military Contractors and Maritime Security Issues

Piracy, terrorism, and other threats have compelled many merchant marine vessels to employ private military contractors.

A U.N. report expressed concerns about mercenaries and alleged human rights violations. “While these shifts carry the potential for more secure maritime transit, it may also come at a cost to human rights, including the disproportionate use of force, violations to rights to life, liberty, and due process guarantees,” the researchers said. “Similarly, the labor rights of private security personnel themselves are also at substantial risk. The proliferation and weak regulation and management of weapons at sea, particularly via floating armories, are also problematic,” they added.

The researchers emphasized that their conclusions were preliminary and that more research is needed in this area.

Mercenaries vs. Contractors

Many people use these terms interchangeably. But they are different. Usually, if private shipping, transportation, or other companies hire private security officers who work overseas, these individuals are mercenaries. If a government entity, like the Merchant Marine, hires private security officers who are stationed overseas, these individuals are contractors. The differences are just beginning.

Overseas mercenaries often work outside the law, at least for practical purposes. Generally, the U.S. Attorney must prosecute maritime crimes in federal court. Unless the rapscallion mercenary hurt a U.S. citizen severely, or more likely several citizens, the U.S. Attorney probably is not interested. Additionally, U.S. Attorneys are political appointees who have political agendas.

Injury compensation matters are even more complex. Occasionally, victims may be able to turn to the Jones Act or the Death on the High Seas Act. But these legal remedies are long shots.

Private military contractors are directly subject to U.S. laws, even if they work overseas in international waters. This legal jurisdiction applies even to contractors who injure or otherwise take away the rights of non-citizens. The long-running Nisour Square/Blackwater affair, which began with a controversial contractor counterattack in Iraq and eventually ended with presidential pardons, is a good example.

Additionally, mercenaries usually sell their services to the highest bidder. Maritime security contractors would probably become pirates if the pirates offered more money. Contractors, like the rest of us, are primarily interested in money. However, government military contractors also serve a higher purpose.

Finally, when it comes to injury compensation, mercenaries must generally fend for themselves. Injured contractors may rely on the Defense Base Act. More on that below.

What Contractors Do

Security contractors get most of the attention, and these individuals perform essential jobs. Lots of other contractors perform important jobs as well, except they don’t carry machine guns.

On land, sea, and air, contractors often maintain the advanced systems in airplanes, ships, and other weapons of war. Without such maintenance, the most advanced systems are useless. The more bells and whistles a gadget has, the more maintenance it needs. In many cases, private military contractors worked for the companies that designed and built these systems.

On a related note, many contractors do basic maintenance work. Most airplanes and other vehicles have millions of parts. Unless all these parts work perfectly and work together perfectly, the airplane is grounded. A $20 part could take a $65 million F-18 out of action. Usually, it is cheaper for the DoD and other government entities to use contractors in these positions. 

Perhaps most importantly, contractors are teachers. Most overseas contractors enjoy their work, but, like everyone else, they would much rather be at home. The better they pass along their knowledge, the sooner that happens.

This motivation makes contractors excellent armed forces trainers. Contractors know how to overcome the cultural barrier as well as the language barrier, so they can better communicate with trainees.

Injury Compensation Available

Back to maritime contractors. Many people are surprised to see fishermen at or near the top of those “most dangerous jobs” lists which appear from time to time. Injured fishermen are miles away from the nearest hospital. Therefore, mild injuries become serious injuries, severe injuries become catastrophic injuries, and so on. The same thing applies to injured maritime contractors. Usually, there is no such thing as a “minor” maritime injury.

The two principal Defense Base Act benefits, medical bill payment and lost wage replacement, are important in these cases. Although these benefits are no-fault, which means victims do not have to prove negligence or fault, disputes are common in both areas. Only a good Defense Base Act attorney can resolve them on victim-friendly terms.

Many people are familiar with infant growth and development charts. If Junior is not walking, rolling over, or composing concertos by X age, many caregivers panic.

Somewhat similarly, to many insurance adjusters, A injury means B missed work time. If the missed work time is even slightly above B, the insurance company will not pay the difference.

Not all babies develop at the same pace, and not all injured workers recover at the same pace. Attorneys ensure that adjusters use the facts of the case, and not a boilerplate table, to determine the amount of lost wages.

Additionally, lost wage replacement depends on the AWW (average weekly wage). The AWW starts with regular cash compensation. The AWW also includes irregular and non-cash compensation, like lost overtime opportunities and per diem reimbursement.

Insurance company adjusters often use basically the same charts to determine medical bill payments. A injury means C medical bills.

Once again, not all medical needs are the same. Maritime contractors are a good example. If John falls on a ship and begins bleeding internally, only a doctor at a hospital can stop that internal bleeding. Onsite medics can temporarily stabilize John, at best. So, by the time a doctor treats John’s internal injuries, they are much more severe. Once again, medical bill reimbursement should be based on the facts, not on an insurance adjuster’s expectations.

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