The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) says the recent report of sexual assault by a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadet during her at sea training brings shame on the shipping industry and underlines the urgent need for action to eliminate violence in the workplace.
The case, which has become known as Midshipman X in some circles, has generated a lot of attention and scrutiny in the maritime industry. Details of the incident were revealed in an online post by victim and published last month by a whistleblower website which works to expose incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment within the U.S. merchant marine.
In her post, the unidentified author describes how she was raped by a supervisor during her Sea Year training on board Maersk Line, Limited vessel operating in the Middle East in 2019. The victim also pointed to broader problems involving other female Midshipmen at the federal service academy. The incident has prompted inquiries by A.P. Moller Maersk which has already led to the suspension of five crew, as well as investigations by U.S. authorities.
In a news article posted Tuesday, the ITF called for the shipping industry to work with seafarers to make the maritime industry safer for women.
“Sadly, this is not an isolated incident, but a reality for many seafarers, both male and female, regardless of flag or company,” said ITF Seafarers’ Section Women’s representative, Lena Dyring.
“We know that women’s experiences in the shipping industry, ashore and at sea often do not match the best intentions laid out in policies. Although many women seafarer trainees have great support during their education ashore, including as part of mentoring programs,” Dyrin adds.
“It is an all-too-common an experience that too many women seafarers suffer from harassment and bullying. Too many encounter discrimination in the workplace, and in the worst cases, assault.”
Dyring said everyone in maritime has a responsibility to change the male-dominated culture and remove obstacles and barriers faced by women in the industry. During also revealed details of a letter she received from a female seafarer following a recent publication of an ITF statement condemning an assault on a female ITF inspector.
In the letter, the seafarer argues that “violence is NOT the only reason why the Maritime Industry cannot retain more women. The Maritime Industry is riddled with poor attitudes & perceptions towards employing / training women, cronyism, nepotism, lack of career progress (i.e.: by not being considered capable of doing the job, being passed over [usually by a junior male] and lack of opportunities, employment options, career development, etc.).”
As the ITF’s Seafarers’ Section Women’s Representative, Lena Dyring agrees that attracting and retaining women to seafaring requires more than just dealing with perpetrators to remove negative behavior.
“She is absolutely right that positive contribution of women at sea need to be celebrated and profiled. Together, we can make a career at sea safe. We can make it secure place for everyone, including women, so that all seafarers can progress and achieve their full potential,” said Dyring.
According to the International Chamber of Shipping and BIMCO’s 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report, women made up just 1.28% of the overall global seafaring workforce and just 0.73% of officers in 2020. While the cruise and ferry sectors were the main employers of women seafarers, due to the pandemic, many women considering a return to sea via the cargo sector, where a female seafarer is likely to be out numbered males 20 to 1.
The ITF notes that while industry bodies, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), have worked to increase the number of women in the maritime industry, in order to make meaningful progress there needs to be a shipboard environment that is more inclusive of women. “This requires awareness training of male seafarers with their active cooperation, establishment of formal support networks for women seafarers, and confidential avenues for seafarers to raise concerns that are promptly investigated and dealt with,” the ITF said.
For its role, the ITF will soon be publishing its own support materials for women seafarers, and will be specifically including guidance on seafarers’ rights to safe, healthy and violence-free workplaces.
But in order to achieve an industry that promotes diversity and inclusion and welcomes equally seafarers of all genders, collaboration from everyone in the shipping sector is needed.
“The ITF global union family is thankful to this brave woman for coming forward to give her account of this terrible experience, as it makes this important issue more visible. The justifiable outrage her testimony has caused has the potential to move us toward a safer, more inclusive industry for the women and girls who are to follow her in pursuing a career at sea,” the ITF said.
“It is incumbent on all of us to honor this seafarers’ bravery with our action. The shipping industry must now step up and make the change happen – and real change needs real commitment. The ITF stand ready to play our part in whatever way we can.”
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