Tensions Escalate Between Kuwait and Iraq

Tensions Escalate Between Kuwait and Iraq

In a desperate move to head off the armed conflict, representatives of the two Muslim nations will meet to discuss freedom-of-navigation issues in the Abdullah waterway between the two countries.

The countries’ shared land border was demarcated by the United Nations in 1993 after Iraq’s invasion of the oil-producing nation, but it did not cover the length of their maritime boundaries. The two countries were supposed to work out the specifics on their own.

A maritime border agreement between the two nations was reached in 2012 and ratified by each of their legislative bodies in 2013.

Kuwait’s prime minister has described the Iraqi court ruling on the waterway as containing “historical fallacies,” calling on Iraq to take “concrete, decisive and urgent measures” to address it.

In response, Iraq assured Kuwait that it respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait and is committed to all its bilateral agreements with countries and to the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, according to a statement.

Freedom of the Seas

Navigation rights in a narrow waterway in the Middle East might seem inconsequential to some people. But Americans can understand these tensions. As a nation, few things get under our skin worse than a threat to the free navigation of the high seas. It is in our national DNA.

New nations are much like new businesses. Most new businesses and most new nations fail in the first 10 years. So, in 1803, people all over the world wanted to know how the Americans would react to Barbary Pirate activity in North Africa, which threatened American merchant vessels. 

Beginning in the 16th century, North African pirates captured ships and raided cities across the Mediterranean Sea. By the 19th century, pirate activity had declined, but Barbary pirates continued to demand tribute from American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean. Refusal to pay would result in the capturing of American ships and goods, and often the enslavement or ransoming of crew members.

After Thomas Jefferson became President in March 1801, he sent the Marines to the Mediterranean to combat the Barbary pirates (the shores of Tripoli in the Marine Hymn). The fleet bombarded numerous fortified cities in present-day Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria, ultimately extracting concessions of safe conduct from the Barbary states.

A few years later, a new threat arose, this time from British ships in the Atlantic. Royal Navy ships often stopped American ships, taking some of their crew members. The British claimed these sailors were Royal Navy deserters, and they may have been correct, at least to an extent.

Nevertheless, American blood boiled over these impressments, especially in New England. In 1812, the Senate narrowly approved a declaration of war against Great Britain. The subsequent War of 1812 settled little, but it did convince the British that the American navy should not be trifled with, and impressment largely stopped.

Fast forward a century to World War I. When the war began in 1914, Germany pretty much bet the farm on unrestricted submarine warfare. If a U-boat spotted a ship in a war zone, which basically meant anywhere near the British Isles, the crew would shoot first and ask questions later. Merchant ships and cruise ships must take their chances.

In 1915, under pressure from the United States, the Germans backed off that stance. In 1917, as they became increasingly desperate to knock England out of the war, they resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. The U.S. declared war almost immediately thereafter.

All three of these incidents illustrate the complexities of free sea navigation. The Barbary pirates mostly stopped slave ships. Most people outside New England cared little about British impressment. To this day, many scholars argue the U.S. joined World War I for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time.

Contractors in Kuwait

American private military contractors did not serve on ships during these conflicts. But they do serve on Kuwaiti naval and merchant vessels.

Naval service might seem like a stretch, but the opposite is true. The Longshoreman Division of the Labor Department supervises Defense Base Act matters. Most Administrative Law Judges, who hear DBA appeals, are DOL employees.

Longshoremen load and unload naval cargo. This activity is very dangerous. Loading and unloading methods have not changed much since the War of 1812. The biggest differences are that the loads are much heavier and longshoremen also use huge cranes in addition to their own backs.

Contractors often sail on ships as well. Experienced contractors often supplement inexperienced crews. They also serve as onboard security. Pirates are still common in this part of the world. Additionally, contractors break up fights among crew members before these conflicts become violent.

Injury Compensation Available

When contractors get hurt in any capacity, the Defense Base Act replaces their lost wages and pays their reasonably necessary medical bills. But DBA insurance companies do not hand out these benefits like candy on Halloween.

In fact, they often deny benefits before they examine the application. Strict time and reporting deadlines apply in these cases. A missed deadline or an improperly filed form makes it easy for insurance company lawyers to deny claims without addressing their merits.

Claims that survive the first-look stage usually do not fare much better at a mediation settlement conference. A mediator reviews the paperwork, usually the medical bills, and meets with both sides. However, these negotiations are not court-supervised, which means there is no duty to negotiate in good faith. Therefore instead of negotiating and compromising, insurance companies usually make take-it-or-leave-it offers that are not anywhere close to fair.

At this point, a Defense Base Act lawyer gets involved and prepares for an appeal hearing before an ALJ. For all intents and purposes, an ALJ hearing is like a trial. Attorneys can introduce evidence, challenge evidence, and make legal arguments. Furthermore, although they may not be completely independent, ALJs definitely are not one-sided.

So, the insurance company knows it is in for a fair fight. As a result, many claims settle before the hearing. These settlements usually include money for economic losses, such as lost wages and medical bills.

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