Senator requests information from MARAD over Merchant Marine Academy rape allegations

Democratic US Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State, in her capacity as Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, has sent a letter to Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lesley requesting information related to investigations into reported allegations of sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment by Midshipmen at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, New York.

The letter comes after an allegation made by an anonymous USMMA Midshipman that she was raped during her Sea Year training by an officer on board a Maersk Line Ltd (MLL) ship (see yesterday’s IMN, October 13th).

The allegation was published by advocacy group Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy (MLAA).

Senator Cantwell has requested that information be submitted to the Committee related to steps taken by the Maritime Administration (MARAD), the U.S. Department of Transportation, and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy to investigate the allegation and others made on the MLAA website, as well as actions taken in response to any findings from those investigations.

Cantwell said that “the maritime industry and United States Merchant Marine are a vital part of our national security and our nation’s economy. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other offenses are unacceptable, and the USMMA must immediately take action to stop this behaviour and protect the men and women of the USMMA both at the Academy, and at sea. To that end, I request responses to these questions (posted below) no later than October 26th 2021.”

The letter also cc’ed in US Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl L Schultz.

AP Moller-Maersk, parent to US-based MLL, issued a series of tweets on Tuesday in support of the anonymous Midshipman. In those Tweets it restated the steps that company had taken thus far, including confirming the suspension of five officers and crew, and that it was conducting its own investigation into the incident in question.

“It is our first priority to find out what happened and make sure that broader actions are taken. All elements in this story goes against our values and everything we believe in as a company,” Maersk said, adding that it was “doing everything we can to ensure that all of our workplaces, including vessels, are safe and welcoming. We have strict and explicit policies in place, and we will now examine all processes with critical eyes to understand how they can be improved.”

MLL operates a fleet of 20 US flagged containerships working in support of the US government. It has already stated that it was investigating the incident and initiating a “top to bottom” review of its shipboard policies.

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

In 2016, the Sea Year was stood down for a year by the DoT following unspecified incidents of sexual harassment and assault, hazing, bullying, coercion, and retaliation involving students at the school and during Sea Year training. The programme was reinstated in 2017 following an independent review. New polices were put in place.

The information Senator Cantwell requested included:

  1. How many reports of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment or related offenses have been reported by or concerning midshipmen of the USMMA in the last 10 years? Please provide a breakdown of these reports that includes whether the incidents occurred on campus, off campus, or at sea during Sea Year, the party that conducted the investigation(s), and the outcome of that investigation.
  2. In the event that a midshipman is removed from a vessel following a sexual assault or harassment report(s), does USMMA remove all midshipmen onboard the vessel for their Sea Year? Please include copies of the USMMA policy, regulation or other guidance on this matter.
  3. If a vessel or its parent company is the subject of a sexual assault or sexual harassment complaint, does the USMMA assign midshipmen to those vessels in the future? Please include copies of the USMMA policy, regulation or other guidance on this matter.
  4. In the event that a midshipman makes an informal or formal complaint of sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination, may they request to be assigned to a different vessel for the duration of their Sea Year? Please include copies of the USMMA policy, regulation or other guidance on this matter.
  5. What actions can be and have been taken by the Coast Guard to withdraw or suspend credentials of mariners with a history of allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Sea Year midshipmen?