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US Merchant Marine Academy Faces Serious Sexual Assault Allegation During Cadet’s Sea Year

The U.S. Department of Transportation has come out with a statement of support after an anonymous online report from a current U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) cadet who claims she was sexually assaulted during her Sea Year.

The disturbing allegation was posted by the alleged victim, who identified herself as a female member of the class of 2022 at USMMA, to a whistleblower website with the mission of eliminating problems of sexual harassment and assault aboard U.S. commercial vessels. The story was also shared on social media.

In the posting, she discloses that she was 19 when she was sexually assaulted while on Sea Year by an older engineer aboard an unidentified U.S.-flagged Maersk Line Limited ship after she was pressured into drinking by members of the ship’s engineering department. The names of the vessel and anyone involved were not disclosed. The post started by also pointing to a broader issue of sexual misconduct against women at the federal service academy.

“There are more than 50 young, strong, amazing women in my class at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy where I am currently in my Senior/1st Class year. I have not spoken to a single one of those women who has told me that she has not been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or degraded at some point during the last 3 years at the Academy or during Sea Year,” the post reads.

Maersk Line Limited, which operates 20 U.S. flag containership operating in support of the U.S. government, said it is investigating the incident and also initiating a “top to bottom” review of its shipboard policies.

In a letter published Saturday to the Kings Point Community, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg and Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley expressed their support for the victim and said the agencies were moving swiftly to address the issue.

“We write today to express our unwavering support for the individual who has shared her story of a sexual assault that took place during Sea Year. U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) are committed to her safety and welfare, along with that of all midshipmen at USMMA, and we stand ready to provide support to her and to all survivors,” the letter reads.

USMMA is one of five federal service academies whose cadets train to serve as officers in the U.S. Merchant Marine, both in the public and private sectors. Part of the curriculum includes Sea Year training, where USMMA cadets are required to complete over 300 days at sea working aboard commercial, passenger, or military vessels operating around the world. The school is administered by MARAD, part of the Department of Transportation.

Unfortunately, the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault at USMMA is nothing new. In June 2016, then Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx ordered a “Sea Year Stand Down” at USMMA following supposed incidents of sexual harassment and assault, hazing, bullying, coercion, and retaliation involving Midshipmen during their time at sea. In response, the Department of Transportation hired its own private consultant to perform an independent assessment of USMMA to help stamp out instances of sexual assault and harassment.

It wasn’t until March 2017 that USMMA announced that it would resume Sea Year training beginning on three commercial carriers – Crowley Maritime Corporation, Maersk Line Limited, and American Presidents Line (APL) – following the implementation of comprehensive new policies that ensured that the academy’s standards were being upheld. The new policies included things like a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and sexual harassment, vetted mentors, regular crew training, and no “fraternization” between crew and Midshipmen. At the time, USMMA said the requirements will be reviewed after six months, and annually thereafter.

In 2020, the Justice Department actually agreed to a $1.4 million settlement with a former member of the USMMA men’s soccer team who alleged he was sexually assaulted and hazed at the academy in 2016. In settling the matter, both the MARAD and Department of Transportation admitted to no wrongdoing. Lawyers for the victim said it marked the first such settlement for sexual assault at any of the United States’ federal service academies.

As for this most recently disclosed incident, the Department of Transportation’s next move, and any plans or changes to the Sea Year program, are not immediately clear.

“As we determine the appropriate steps required to increase and ensure the safety of midshipmen, we pledge to listen to and work closely with the entire Kings Point community. We especially want our students to know that we value their voices and want to make sure they are part of any decisions that could potentially affect our Sea Year training program,” the DOTs letter reads.

“To the entire Kings Point community, thank you for remaining a source of strength for our shipmates. 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 are committed to moving swiftly and resolutely to address sexual assault and harassment, protect and support survivors, and fulfill our deep commitment to the vital work of USMMA.”

The whistleblower website also contains other stories of incidents that we cannot independently verify.

Maersk Line Limited’s has released its own statement, which is posted in full below:

“On Tuesday, September 28th, Maersk Line, Limited (MLL) was made aware of an anonymous posting on the internet, alleging a sexual assault committed against a U.S. Merchant Marine cadet on an MLL vessel.

Although this posting did not identify the victim, the particular vessel, or the involved crewmembers, it provided sufficient 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 Anti-Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment Policy; through U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) or other government officials, or in any other capacity.

The allegations in the posting are very disturbing, and MLL has initiated an investigation in an attempt to identify the vessel and the 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 posting are confirmed, MLL will ensure there is full accountability. The safety and security of our mariners, including cadets, is of primary importance to MLL, and it is imperative that all mariners are aware of, and are able to utilize, available tools for reporting inappropriate conduct onboard our vessels.

As a result, MLL is also initiating a top to bottom review of our current shipboard policies, including the Anti-Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment Policy, to ensure the reporting procedures are clear and effective. We will also engage the Maritime Administration, USMMA, USCG, our mariner workforce and other stakeholders within the maritime industry to improve collective efforts, starting with victim support, on addressing Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment issues.”

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I was never in charge of maritime industry —Saraki

Senator Gbemisola Saraki, Minister of State for Transportation in a hearty discussion with Amaechi when the going was good

 

Eyewitness reporter

For three years after she was named the Minister of State for Transportation in 2019, Senator Gbemisola Saraki said she was never in charge of the maritime sector.
Her assertion contradicted the gentleman’s agreement between her and Rotimi Amaechi, who until his resignation from Mohammed Buhari’s cabinet to pursue his failed presidential ambition, was the Minister of transportation.
Amaechi,  as the then supervising Minister, in 2019, had delineated the duties of the two heads of the ministry to avoid any possible clash of interests.
At one of the public functions held in Lagos in 2019 at the beginning of his second term in office as the Minister of Transportation, Amaechi publicly declared that while he would focus his attention on railways due to the enormity of the project and its importance to the national economy, Saraki will be in charge of the maritime industry with his occasional supervision, especially as it concerns maritime security.
Ameachi had then acknowledged that he had abandoned the maritime industry for the rail sector when he first served as transportation minister from 2015 to 2019 but said his minister of state, Senator Gbemisola Saraki,  will fill the gap during his second term in office.
“In my first term as minister, I completely abandoned the maritime sector to the heads of agencies.
“This time around, that won’t be happening again as I have instructed that the Hon. Minister of Transportation for State should personally supervise the maritime agencies, while I just oversee what is happening” Ameachi had declared.
However, Senator Saraki subtly debunked the claim three years after when she said that she was never in charge of the sector.
The minister was reacting to an inquiry from the curious journalists last week Friday why it took her one year to the end of her four-year tenure to come on a familiarisation tour of the sector she was supposed to be superintending.
“I was never in charge of the maritime sector. I was asked to supervise road transport”  the Kwara State-born politician declared.
Her revelation confirmed the widely held belief among the stakeholders that there was a repressed and smouldering animosity between the two Ministers.
Though Saraki tried to downplay the cat and mouse relationship with her former boss, stakeholders however believed that the two Ministers never got along well with each other.
Sources pointed to instances when the two Ministers were tactically avoiding joint attendance at maritime events.
Impeccable sources whispered to our reporter that the festering feud became noticeable when Saraki began to boycott events in the industry with her former boss.
It was further learnt that the boycott of events in the industry by the Minister of state may be a subtle protest against the apparent arrogation by Amaechi of official duties of the junior Minister which has led to the redundancy of Saraki.
It was gathered that throughout 2019 and the better part of 2021, Amaechi allowed Saraki to take charge of events in the maritime industry.
Sources claimed that towards the end of last year and since the beginning of 2022 up till his resignation as the Minister, Amaechi may have reneged on the gentleman’s agreement between him and his minister of state.
“During this period, the Minister took over the functions hitherto reserved for the Minister of state.
”This development seems to have irked Saraki who felt the Minister was trying to make her reductant.
“That was when she started to boycott functions at the maritime industry where she and her principal were likely to meet” a source who was in the know confided in our reporter.The absence of the minister of State at major maritime events became noticeable during landmark events such as  NIMASA’s unveiling of wreck removal in 2021,  the World Maritime Day, 2021,  and the inspection of the Lekki deep seaport by President Muhammadu Buhari.

It could also be recalled that Amaechi had made a couple of visits to the Lekki deep seaport, even on a Sunday, before the presidential visit, none of which Saraki attended.

Concerned maritime stakeholders claimed that the recent action of Ameachi, who is widely regarded as the ”Lion of the Niger Delta” may appear bossy to Gbemisola Saraki, who is also a strong-willed woman.
“The two Ministers are of strong-willed personalities who don’t brood nonsense.
“We all know the political antecedents of Amaechi who has a domineering posture.

” Gbemi is also made of sterner stuff given her role in the “Otoge” political tsunami in Kwara which eventually swept off  Bukola Saraki, her blood brother, from the political dominance in Kwara politics, a role which earned her the present position in the present dispensation.
“So, I don’t see how Amaechi, who has domineering posture could lord it over Gbemi, who is equally a woman of strong character, without skirmishes” a knowledgeable analyst declared.
However, stakeholders were skeptical if Senator Saraki could achieve much of the promises she made during her week-long tours of Lagos ports last week given barely one year she has as a member of the Buhari Administration before it is wound up.
The Minister came on the tour in the company of some Directors in the ministry.

“Today is my fifth week of assuming the leadership of the Ministry of Transportation”, she declared last week Friday in Lagos.

“We came to take stock of the sector. We had taken the stock of the Road sector,” she said.

Giving her summation of her findings at the end of the tour, she declared” Apapa and Tin Can ports are in terrible need of repairs.

“We will go and come back for repairs.

“We have the short, medium, and long-term plans for this. We need to start with rehabilitation here. Another problem here is power”

The  Minister met various groups who are stakeholders in the industry.

Among them are women groups in maritime, terminal operators, stevedores, maritime workers union groups, haulage, and transport operators, maritime lawyers, freight forwarders, and maritime press.

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We have political will to ensure CVFF is disbursed—-Saraki

Senator Gbemosola Saraki, Minister of State for Transportation
—- expresses sadness over unending delay
Eyewitness reporter

The Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Rukayyat Gbemisola Saraki has expressed willingness to muster the necessary political will to ensure the controversial Cabotage Vessels Financing Funds (CVFF) are disbursed before she leaves office.

She expressed sadness over the delay in the disbursement of the interventionist funds, 19 years after it was set up which she said was critical to the empowerment of the struggling indigenous ship owners.
The Minister made this commitment Friday during the interactive media parley she held in Lagos to round up her week-long tours of Lagos ports.
The Minister, who was fielding questions from journalists, declared that her ministry would work with the National Assembly to expedite action of the disbursement process.
She disclosed that she was part of the senators who passed the Cabotage Act in 2003 which gave birth to the CVFF and it was disheartening that 19 years later the funds are yet to be disbursed.
 “It is really very disheartening that the fund has not been disbursed but we will work with the National Assembly to ensure its disbursement.
“Just watch, it has to be disbursed, especially with the coming on stream of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

“In the course of this visit, I have also interacted with so many stakeholders, including the indigenous ship owners.

“I know the number of vessels that Nigerians had 10 years ago and I know how many they have now.
“The funds is very critical for the empowerment of indigenous ship owners and we know many of them have gone under”

“It is really a shame that this fund has not been disbursed, I learnt the value is $350 million now and I am not sure any part of it is missing.

” We will work with the National Assembly to pass the guidelines. It is not really about the Federal Ministry of Finance but I think it is more of the political will to disburse it and I think we have the political will to do so.”
The Minister disclosed that the guidelines for the disbursement of the fund have been formulated and awaiting the approval of the  National Assembly.

She added that the disbursement would follow the approval by the National Assembly after beneficiaries must have been shortlisted.

According to her, the approval would soon be secured and the fund disbursed in no distant time.
She regarded the non-disbursement of the CVFF as a national shame and embarrassment.
CVFF is a two percent contribution by indigenous ship owners on every Cabotage contract executed and is meant for fleet expansion and empowerment of the shipping capacity of indigenous ship owners.
Since 2003 when the Cabotage Act was enacted and 2006 when the CVFF guidelines were enacted, no disbursement was made as the funds have become a subject of controversy and subject to serial abuse.
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P&ID fraud : Court convicts, winds up Marqott Nigeria Limited.

Owolola Adebola

Justice D.U Okorowo of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has convicted and wound up Marqott Nigeria Limited,  one of the 30 companies associated with the  Process and Industrial Development Limited, P & ID,  for money laundering.

The company was convicted on Thursday,  June 16, 2022, after being found guilty of four-count charges bordering on money laundering preferred against it by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

Count one of the charges read: “That you, Marqott Nigeria Limited, being a designated Non-financial Institution; and Giovanni Beccarelli, Valentina Fantoli, and Dimitri Duca, being directors of and signatories to the bank account of Marqott Nigeria Limited, sometime in September 2014, in Abuja, within the Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court, failed to comply with the requirements of submitting to the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, a declaration of activities of Marqott Nigeria Limited contrary to Section 16(1) (f) read together with Section 5(1)(a)(ii) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011(as amended and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 16(2)(b) of the same Act.”

Count two read:  “That you, Marqott Nigeria Limited, being a designated Non-financial Institution; and Giovanni Beccarelli, Valentina Fantoli, and Dimitri Duca, being directors of and signatories to the bank account of Marqott Nigeria Limited, sometime in September 2014, in Abuja, within the Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court, failed to develop programs to combat money laundering and other illegal acts, to wit: failure to designate at management level a compliance officer within any strata of Marqott Nigeria Limited, contrary to Section 16(1)(f) read together with Section 9(1)(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and you thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 16 (2)(b) of the same Act”.

At the point of the first arraignment on February 7, 2022,  the defendant pleaded “not guilty” to the charges, setting the stage for a full trial.

In the course of the trial, the EFCC presented many witnesses and tendered many documents as exhibits.

In his judgment,  Justice Okorowo found Marqott Nigeria Limited guilty of all the four-count charges and convicted it accordingly.   He also ordered that the company be wound up  and its entire assets forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Marqott was first arraigned on Monday,  February 7, 2022, for being an accomplice in the $9.6bn Gas Supply and Processing Agreement between the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and  P&ID.

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