The US Department of Transportation and Maritime Administration is seriously examining an anonymous online report from a US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) cadet who claims he was sexually assaulted during his Sea Year training, while offering “unwavering support” to the victim. and others who have been sexually assaulted and harassed at the Federal Service Academy in Kings Point, NY
The allegation was posted in the form of an article written by the victim, who identified herself as a female member of the Class of 2022 at USMMA, on a whistleblower website that works to expose the issues of sexual harassment and assault on board US commercial vessels, and also shared on social media.
In her article, the anonymous author reveals that she was 19 when she was sexually assaulted while on Sea Year by an older engineer aboard a U.S.-flagged Maersk Line Limited vessel after being forced to drink by members of the engineering department. The name of the vessel and anyone involved were not disclosed. The post began by also highlighting a broader issue of sexual misconduct against female USMMA cadets.
“There are over 50 strong and amazing young women in my class at the US Merchant Marine Academy, where I’m currently a first year first class. I haven’t spoken to any of those women who told me that she had not been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or degraded at any point in the past 3 years at the Academy or during the Year of the sea ”, we read in the article.
Maersk Line Limited, which operates 20 US-flagged container ships operating in support of the US government, said it is investigating the incident and is also starting a “top-down” review of its policies at on board ships (MLL’s full statement can be found at the bottom of this article).
In a letter released to the community of Kings Point on Saturday, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Polly Trottenberg and Acting Marine Administrator Lucinda Lessley expressed support for the victim and said the agencies were working quickly to resolve the issues of school.
“We are writing today to express our unwavering support for the person who shared her story of sexual assault that took place during Sea Year. The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) are committed to ensuring his safety and well-being, and that of all aspirants to USMMA, and we stand ready to support him and all survivors, ”reads. we in the letter.
USMMA is one of five federal service academies where cadets train to serve as officers in the United States Merchant Navy, in both the public and private sectors. Part of the program includes Sea Year training, where cadets are required to complete over 300 days at sea aboard commercial, passenger or military vessels operating around the world. The school is administered by MARAD, which is part of the Ministry of Transport.
Unfortunately, the issue of sexual harassment and assault at USMMA is not new. In June 2016, then Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx ordered a “Maritime Year Shutdown” at USMMA following suspected incidents of sexual harassment and assault, hazing , intimidation, coercion and retaliation involving cadets while at sea. In response, the Department of Transport hired its own private consultant for an independent assessment of the issues.
It was not until March 2017 that USMMA announced it would resume Sea Year training, starting with three commercial carriers – Crowley Maritime Corporation, Maersk Line Limited and American Presidents Line (APL) – after the implementation implemented comprehensive new policies to ensure academy standards were met. The new policies included such things as a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and sexual harassment, approved mentors, regular crew training, and no “fraternization” between crew and midshipmen. At the time, USMMA said the requirements would be reviewed after six months and then annually.
In another incident, the Justice Department in 2020 actually agreed to a $ 1.4 million settlement with a former member of the USMMA men’s football team who alleged he was sexually assaulted. and hazed at the academy in 2016. To settle the case, MARAD and the Department of Transportation did not admit any wrongdoing, but the case marked the first time that a sexual assault victim had recovered damage -interests in one of the academies of the federal service.
Regarding this newly publicized incident, the next actions of the Department of Transport, as well as any plans or modifications to the Sea Year program, are not immediately clear.
“As we determine the appropriate actions required to increase and ensure the safety of aspirants, we are committed to listening and working closely with the wider community of Kings Point. Most importantly, we want our students to know that we value their voices and want to make sure that they are part of all decisions that could potentially affect our Sea Year training program, ”the letter from DOT reads.
“To the entire Kings Point community, thank you for being a source of strength to our fellow ships. We have heard from many of you and know that you have questions and concerns. On behalf of Secretary Buttigieg and the entire department, we pledge to act swiftly and decisively to address sexual assault and harassment, protect and support survivors, and fulfill our deep commitment to the vital work of USMMA . ”
Maersk Line Limited has issued its own statement, which is published in full below:
“On Tuesday, September 28, Maersk Line, Limited (MLL) learned of an anonymous Internet post alleging sexual assault against a US Merchant Sea Cadet on an MLL vessel.
While this posting did not identify the victim, the particular vessel, or the crew members involved, it did provide enough detail for MLL to conclude that the company was not made aware of this incident at any time. prior to this posting, whether through the Company’s notification procedures under its Sexual Assault / Sexual Harassment Policy; through the United States Coast Guard (USCG), United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) or other government officials, or in any other capacity.
The allegations contained in the announcement are very disturbing and MLL has opened an investigation to attempt to identify the vessel and personnel involved, as well as the relevant facts surrounding the alleged incident. MLL has a strict and explicit zero tolerance policy for assault, harassment or discrimination of any kind, and if the allegations in the post are confirmed, MLL will ensure that there is full liability. The safety and security of our Sailors, including Cadets, is of paramount importance to MLL, and it is imperative that all Sailors know and are able to use the tools available to report inappropriate conduct aboard our ships.
As a result, MLL is also launching a top-down review of our current policies on board ships, to include the Sexual Assault / Sexual Harassment Policy, to ensure that reporting procedures are clear and effective. We will also engage the Maritime Administration, USMMA, USCG, our sailors and other maritime industry stakeholders to enhance collective efforts, starting with victim support, to resolve aggression issues. sexual and sexual harassment.