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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