American sea cadet rape investigation sees Maersk suspend five officers

Denmark-based shipping company AP Moller-Maersk has suspended five officers amid a growing investigation into an alleged rape case involving a cadet from the US Merchant Marine Academy serving her year at sea aboard a vessel operated by Maersk’s US-flag subsidiary, Maersk Line Ltd (MLL).

Maersk said that it was launching a comprehensive inquiry and that it had suspended five American mariners.

The former cadet’s recent account of a sexual assault aboard an unnamed MLL vessel has generated significant  attention within the US maritime community. The cadet is currently a midshipman at the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA). She was placed onto a vessel as part of USMMA’s Sea Year training programme. After a series of developments in 2016 the US Department of Transportation temporarily halted USMMA’s Sea Year programme for a review of its sexual assault / sexual harassment prevention protocols.

The latest allegations, published in late September (link below) have brought back to the surface a long-running debate at the extent of sexual misconduct within the merchant marine, and the extent to which it has been tolerated.

The cadet’s account relates a sexual assault on board by a senior officer, as well as a pattern of alcohol abuse on the same vessel.

The author of article has claimed that sexual misconduct and harassment were still widespread at USMMA and in the Sea Year programme.

USMMA’s parent agencies – the Maritime Administration and the US Department of Transportation – have once again stepped in to “determine the steps required to increase and ensure the safety” of USMMA students.

AP Moller-Maersk technical manager Palle Laursen told local media outlets that there were “enough details for us to be able to identify which ship and which employees are involved. That is why we have something that forms the basis for initiating an investigation, and that is why we have suspended the five involved officers who [were] on the ship”.

Laursen added that “we are deeply shaken by this. The way in which the incident is described is not only contrary to ordinary decency, but also in particular to our values and what we stand for in Maersk.”

However, he said that “overall, we do not have the impression that this is a widespread phenomenon at Maersk.”

The information obtained in the investigation would likely be handed over to the police. Laursen told Berlingske that it was possible that the inquiry might look at other mariners as well.

Bill Woodhour, CEO of Maersk Line Ltd, said that “we are shocked and deeply saddened about what we have read. We take this situation seriously and are disturbed by the allegations made in this anonymous posting, which has only recently been brought to our attention. We do everything we can to ensure that all of our workplace environments, including vessels, are a safe and welcoming workplace, and we’ve launched a top to bottom investigation”.

In November 2020 MLL was fined $10,000 for failing to disclose a report of sexual assault on the Maersk Idaho to the Coast Guard, as required by 46 USC § 10104. It was the first fine ever issued to a vessel operator for this violation, according to Maritime Legal Aid, which has contended that the fine reflected a pattern and practice of non-disclosure at MLL. MLL has disputed this characterization and is contesting the fine in administrative proceedings.

The allegations of the rape of the then 19-year-old member of the class of 2022 at USMMA was writing in a post carried by Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy, which is a non-profit legal advocacy organisation fighting for the rights of mariners.