What Is the Military Sealift Command?

The Military Sealift Command is the sole transportation provider for the U.S. Navy and Department of Defense (DOD). It was created in July 1949 when the Military Sea Transportation Service was given exclusive responsibility for the ocean transportation needs of the DOD; it was given its current name in 1970. MSC is comprised of a fleet of ships, most owned by the Navy and some under long-term charter. Military Sealift Command vessels owned by the Navy and those being chartered are differentiated by their hull numbers, as well as the colors they carry.

Military Sealift Command employs civilian U.S. government employees or contract crews to man ships when they are sent on a particular mission. The MSC is made up of four main programs:

  • Sealift: The Sealift Program is tasked with the responsibility to serve as the sole provider of ocean transportation for the DOD. It provides cost-effective sealift assets for the DOD in times of peace, contingency, and war. The benefit of having this one program directly connected to the needs of the DOD is that it is centrally managed. There are three subprograms within the Sealift Program: Tanker Project, Dry Cargo Project, and Surge Project.
  • Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force: This portion of the MSC most directly supports the Navy, manning naval fleets with civilians to reduce costs. There are several types of ships involved with the Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force, including Rescue/Salvage, Ammunition, Dry Cargo, Hospital, Fast Combat, Fleet Replenishment, and Combat Stores.
  • Special Mission: As the name suggests, this is the most specialized part of Military Sealift Command. The Special Missions Program maintains control of 24 vessels that supplement U.S. Military and government missions at sea. Providing platforms and services, it is involved in unique operations such as oceanographic surveys, submarine surveillance, missile flight data tracking, acoustic research, and support for submarine vessels.
  • Prepositioning: The Prepositioning Program of Military Sealift Command provides support for military departments before a need arises. The vessels are deployed in key ocean areas, carrying military equipment supplies to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Defense Logistics Agency.

Civil Service Mariner (CIVMAR) Injuries & Legal Rights

If a civilian working for the Military Sealift Command (MSC) is injured, they are entitled to rights and protections similar to other maritime workers, but with some specific nuances because of the MSC's affiliation with the U.S. Navy.

The following laws may apply to people who are injured on or by an MSC vessel:

  • Jones Act: Civilian mariners employed by the MSC, like other seafarers, may be able to seek compensation under the Jones Act if they are injured due to employer negligence. 
  • Public Vessels Act (PVA): Since MSC ships are owned by the U.S. government, claims may be covered by the PVA, which allows personal injury claims against the U.S. for incidents occurring on public vessels.
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA): In some cases, the LHWCA might apply, providing compensation for land-based injuries that occur during maritime employment. This would be more relevant for those working in shipyards, loading docks, or similar areas, rather than aboard a ship.
  • Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA): Since MSC mariners are essentially federal employees, they may be covered by FECA, which provides compensation for medical expenses and wage loss due to work-related injuries.

While MSC civilian mariners have rights similar to other maritime workers, the nuances of their employment relationship and the circumstances of their injuries can determine the most applicable avenue for redress. Injured MSC workers should consult with a maritime attorney to navigate the complexities of these overlapping legal frameworks.

If you or a loved one was working as a CIVMAR or in any capacity with the Military Sealift Command when injured, contact us to learn how we can help.

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