US Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), in her capacity as chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, sent a letter to Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lesley requesting information on the investigations into allegations of sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment by wannabes at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.
The letter follows an allegation made by an anonymous USMMA midshipman that she was raped during her Sea Year training by a supervisor aboard a Maersk Line, Limited vessel. The allegation was published late last month along with other victim stories by Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy (MLAA), an advocacy group seeking to expose incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment within the US merchant navy.
In letter to Acting Administrator Lessley, Senator Cantwell requests that information be submitted to the Committee regarding actions taken by the Maritime Administration (MARAD), the United States Department of Transportation and the State Merchant Navy Academy -United to investigate the allegation and other facts on the MLAA website, as well as action taken in response to the findings of those investigations.
“The United States’ shipping industry and merchant navy are a vital part of our national security and the economy of our country. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other offenses are unacceptable, and USMMA must take immediate action to end this behavior and protect the men and women of USMMA both at the Academy and at sea. To this end, I request answers to these questions (published below) no later than October 26, 2021. “
The letter also “CC’s” US Coast Guard Commanding Officer Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commanding Officer.
Addressing the only incident involving his ship, AP Moller-Maersk A / S, parent company of Maersk Line, Limited, on Tuesday posted a series of tweets in support of the anonymous midshipman in addition to disclosing the actions the company has taken so far to resolve the matter, including confirming the suspension of five officers and crew as part of its own investigation into the incident in question.
“It’s our first priority to find out what happened and to make sure broader action is taken. Everything in this story goes against our values and everything we believe in as a company, ”Maersk said in his tweets.
“We do everything we can to make sure that all of our workplaces, including ships, are safe and welcoming. We have strict and explicit policies in place, and now we will take a critical look at all processes to understand how they can be improved. “
Maersk Line, Limited, which operates a fleet of 20 US-flagged container ships working in support of the US government, previously said it was investigating the incident and starting a “top-down” review of its policies on board ships.
USMMA is one of the five federal service academies. Midshipmen at the school train to serve as officers in the U.S. Merchant Navy, both in the public and private sectors. Part of the program includes Sea Year training, where midshipmen 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.
In 2016, a “Sea Year Stand Down” was launched by the Department of Transportation following unspecified incidents of sexual harassment and assault, hazing, intimidation, coercion and retaliation involving students from school and during Sea Year training. The program was finally reinstated in 2017 following a lengthy independent review and new policies put in place to ensure academy standards were met.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transport is made up of 28 senators and seven sub-committees, which together oversee matters related to communications, highways, aviation, rail, navigation, security transport, merchant navy, coast guard, oceans, fisheries, weather, disasters, science, space, interstate commerce, tourism, consumer issues, economic development, technology, competitiveness, product safety and assurance.
The information requested by Senator Cantwell is as follows:
- How many reports of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment or related offenses have been reported by or involving USMMA applicants in the past 10 years? Please provide a breakdown of these reports indicating whether the incidents occurred on campus, off campus or at sea during the Year of the Sea, the party that conducted the investigation and the outcome of that investigation.
- In the event that a midshipman is removed from a ship as a result of one or more reports of sexual assault or harassment, does USMMA remove all midshipmen on the ship for their maritime year? Please include copies of USMMA policy, regulations or other guidance on this matter.
- If a vessel or its parent company is the subject of a complaint of sexual assault or sexual harassment, will USMMA assign midshipmen to those vessels in the future? Please include copies of USMMA policy, regulations or other guidance on this matter.
- In the event that a midshipman lodges a formal or informal complaint of sexual assault, harassment or discrimination, can he request to be assigned to another vessel for the duration of his maritime year? Please include copies of USMMA policy, regulations or other guidance on this matter.
- What steps can and have been taken by the Coast Guard to withdraw or suspend the accreditations of seafarers with a history of sexual assault and harassment allegations against Sea Year applicants?