The British recently sent the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, along with its support vessels, to the largest and southernmost landmass in the Chagos Archipelago.
The latest violent boundary dispute between India and China renewed the focus on Diego Garcia’s military significance and checkered past. Royal Navy Admiral Tony Radakin is a major proponent of increased military activity on the tiny atoll. “When I look at it through a Navy lens, we want to have the ships that are operating much more strongly with Oman, with India, using Diego Garcia and operating down the east coast of Africa,” he said. Last year, in a related move, the British said they would spend over $30 million to upgrade the Duqm logistical hub in Oman.
Furthermore, the British hope that Indo-Pacific nations will see better and more secure oceangoing routes as an alternative to China’s one-world Belt and Road Initiative, which would use a string of land routes to connect the entire Eurasian landmass and, incidentally, be controlled exclusively by China.
How We Got Here: Controversy in Diego Garcia
Technically, this atoll is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. In 1966, the British gave the United States a 50-year lease on the airbase and other facilities at Diego Garcia. The countries recently extended this lease until 2036. American and British interests do not always align, especially when it comes to neighborhood bully China. Other players in this political soap opera include Mauritius, a former British colony in the region, and indigenous Chagossian islanders.
A hundred years ago, the sun never set on the British Empire. The loss of that empire resulted in the loss of international prestige. Some British diplomats wryly observed that, by the end of World War II, the Allied Big Three leaders had become the Big Two-and-a-Half. So, many in Britain are determined to hold onto the last vestiges of the old empire.
The Falkland Islands are a good example. Despite Krusty’s urgings, no one much cared about two rocks in the South Atlantic. Nevertheless, the British sent almost every available military asset to retake the islands.
In addition to a military base, the Americans use Diego Garcia as a black site for interrogating suspects in the Global War on Terror. However, the military base is by far the island’s most important asset, as far as the Americans are concerned. As mentioned, the UK does not always share this concern. As recently as the summer of 2021, the British Cabinet called for a “mature and balanced relationship” with communist China. So, the Americans are committed to a military buildup in Diego Garcia, with or without the Tommies.
Diego Garcia was part of Mauritius, another British colony, from 1814 to 1965. At that point, the UK moved the Chagos Archipelago into another administrative district, the British Indian Ocean Territory. Mauritius still claims the islands, arguing that the 1965 separation was unlawful. In 2019, the United Nations backed the claim and ordered the UK to cede the islands to a now independent Mauritius. The British said the underlying International Court of Justice’s ruling was not binding.
A small group of native Chagos islanders lived on Diego Garcia until the late 1960s. Then, allegedly to clear space for the coming military base, the British forcibly relocated the Chagossians. These accusations have never been conclusively proven or disproven. But something prompted the Chagossians to move from Diego Garcia to Mauritius and the equally-distant Seychelles Islands.
What Contractors Do in Diego Garcia
Partially because of all this drama, private military contractors, who have no interest in the political situation, play an important role on Diego Garcia. They do not take sides. They just do their jobs. And, these jobs are important.
Living on Diego Garcia is not quite like living on the Moon, but it is close. This tiny atoll is extremely remote, to say the least. The coronavirus pandemic increased Diego Garcia’s isolation, since many air and shipping routes have either been cut back or cut off. Americans who are now working at home instead of in offices can probably sympathize. If your entire world was in about a five-block radius, that is what living on Diego Garcia is like.
Therefore, morale officers, who are mostly private military contractors, are very important on this remote airbase. Servicemember morale officers are usually just event planners. Contractor morale officers often have some training or background in psychology. So, they are more well-suited to the task.
Construction and dock work are equally as important. Many of Diego Garcia’s facilities date back to the Vietnam War era. Runways must be lengthened, harbor facilities expanded, barracks renovated, and the list goes on. Private military contractors are much more efficient, from a financial standpoint, than Seabies, the Corps of Engineers, and other such groups. Furthermore, pretty much everything and anyone that arrives at or leaves Diego Garcia is aboard a ship. Contractors have the expertise needed to perform the necessary tasks in this area.
Injury Compensation Available
The pay contractors on Diego Garcia earn barely compensates them not only for their labor, but also for the isolation they feel. So, when they are injured, wage replacement is an important benefit. Additionally, their families back home usually count on the wages they earn. So, the Defense Base Act replaces lost wages in several ways, as follows:
- Temporary Total Disability: Most injured contractors have TTD injuries. They can return to work full-time as soon as they recover from their injuries. In these situations, the Defense Base Act usually pays two-thirds of their average weekly wage for the duration of their disabilities.
- Temporary Partial Disability: Some victims can work as they recover. However, they must reduce their hours or accept a light-duty assignment. To fill in the gap, the DBA pays two-thirds of the difference between their old and new wages. Once again, this benefit usually lasts as long as the temporary disability lasts.
- Permanent Total Disability: Sometimes, an illness or injury is so severe that, based on the victim’s educational, vocational, and other background, the victim cannot work again. If that’s the case, the DBA usually pays a sum of money to compensate the victim and the family for this loss.
- Permanent Partial Disability: Frequently, injuries never fully heal and illnesses are never cured. So, the DBA compensates victims for the loss of function or use. The amount usually depends on the nature and extent of the loss, as well as the victim’s average weekly wage.
The AWW not only includes regular cash compensation. It also includes irregular or non-cash compensation, like performance bonuses and housing allowance.
To learn more about DBA procedure, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.