A US Merchant Marine Academy cadet has alleged on a maritime whistleblower website that she was sexually assaulted during her Sea Year training by an engineering supervisor 40 years her senior while she was at aboard a commercial vessel in the Middle East.
The allegation was share last week on the website of Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy, a non-profit group focused on ending sexual harassment and abuse. An unidentified female member of the USMMA Class of 2022 at Kings Point filed the charge.
The victim wrote that she was 19 at the time of the rape, which took place during the Year of the Sea, a time when cadets serve on ocean-going vessels. She alleges she was forced to drink alcohol by older men on the US-flagged ship Maersk Line Limited and was later assaulted by the first engineer, a man in his 60s whom she did not identified by name. The ship’s name was not disclosed.
“I was in total shock,” the victim wrote of how she felt after the assault. “For at least 20 minutes I sat there…trying to piece together a timeline and trying to come to terms with the fact that I had in fact been raped. I was completely terrified. I was the only girl on the boat, and we had about two weeks until we even reached the next port.”
The woman said that although she passed out during the evening, she had vivid memories of part of the assault. The victim said she did not report the alleged rape for fear of not being believed. In a conversation the next day, the woman said her alleged rapist denied the attack and told her that “no one will ever believe you”.
The victim said she knew at least five other female cadets in her class who had been raped during the year of the sea and that the approximately 50 females in her class had all been sexually harassed, assaulted or degraded during the three years previous ones.
“Since my return from the sea, I have learned that other lower class women were also forcibly raped during the year of the sea, and I know that in total there are at least 10 young women currently enrolled in the US Merchant Marine Academy who were raped during their Sea Year,” wrote the woman, who has since become an advocate for victims while still in the Merchant Navy. “And there are certainly cases that I am not aware of.”
In a statementTransportation Undersecretary Polly Trottenberg and Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley expressed their “unwavering support” for the victim and said they are “committed to his safety and well-being, and to all USMMA wannabes”.
But officials said providing resources after an assault was not enough.
“We must first stop them from happening,” they wrote. “We have zero tolerance for sexual assault and sexual harassment at USMMA and in the maritime industry. As we determine the appropriate measures needed to increase and ensure the safety of midshipmen, we are committed to listening and working working closely with the wider Kings Point community.”
In a statement, Maersk Line Limited, which operates 20 US-flagged container ships, said it was unaware of the incident but was launching a ‘top-down’ review of onboard policies. .
“The allegations contained in the post are very disturbing and MLL has initiated an investigation to attempt to identify the vessel and personnel involved, as well as the relevant facts surrounding the alleged incident,” the company wrote. “MLL has a strict and explicit zero tolerance policy for assault, harassment or discrimination of any kind, and if the allegations in the posting are confirmed, MLL will ensure that there is full accountability.”
The USMMA, which trains men and women to become midshipmen working on ocean-going vessels and in the military, has struggled to deal effectively with sexual assault and sexual harassment for years. The school is one of five federal service academies and was the first in the nation to admit women.
In 2016, reports of sexual misconduct forced the temporary suspension of Sea Year, a program in which midshipmen must complete more than 300 days of work on commercial vessels in international waters. The program resumed the following year after the USMMA implemented a new “zero tolerance” policy for sexual assault and harassment as well as new training procedures.
The following year, a former academy football player filed a $5 million federal lawsuit against seven former team members and three former coaches, claiming he had been verbally and physically assaulted, including including sexual assault, and that the conduct had been unchecked and, in some cases, encouraged by coaches.
The DOT paid the victim a $1.4 million settlement in December.