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by John Konrad (gCaptain) A source close to the investigation has informed gCaptain that Edgar Sison will relinquish his engineering officer license following allegations of sexual assault raised by the US Coast Guard in the widely publicized Midshipman X case. This decision arrived after the FBI chose not to apprehend or prosecute Sison. By surrendering his license, Sison can sidestep a potential judicial hearing that might have unveiled new testimonies or evidence.
The Coast Guard recently issued an amended complaint against Sison, reinforcing prior allegations of misconduct and adding a fresh accusation of sexual assault.
Initially, the Coast Guard charged Sison for violations concerning alcohol usage, but held back on the sexual assault charge. This was despite accusations that he had assaulted a cadet from the US Merchant Marine Academy, known widely by the moniker “Midshipman X.” The cadet later revealed her identity as Hope Hicks.
At the time, Sison held the position of first assistant engineer on the ship Alliance Fairfax, which was leased to AP Moller-Maersk’s U.S. division. Following the allegations, Maersk suspended Sison and four other employees. Meanwhile, the President of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) released a stern statement condemning sexual harassment and vowed to collaborate with Maersk and federal investigators. However, the union eventually refrained from making public remarks and allowed Sison to continue his duties on other union-affiliated vessels.
Hope Hicks graduated from the US Merchant Marine Academy and secured a commission as a US Navy officer, but did not pause in her search for justice. In June, Hicks filed a lawsuit against Maersk Line Limited in the New York Supreme Court and later settlement with the company by November. Alongside her attorney, Ryan Melogy, Hicks continuously pressed the FBI and the US Coast Guard for an arrest.
After a long investigation by the FBI, U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg pondered pressing criminal charges. Yet, this month saw the FBI confirming that they would not be moving forward with the arrest.
The FBI’s decision has returned the onus to the USCG. Equipped with a specialized suspension and revocation (S&R) process, the USCG can act on a mariner’s license if they possess concrete evidence of breaches of maritime regulations, laws, or if the mariner’s actions compromise marine safety or security.
The S&R process typically plays out before a military Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), emulating the standard courtroom proceedings. Both parties are permitted to produce evidence, call upon witnesses, and articulate legal positions. The ALJ’s decision is informed by this evidence. An adverse ruling against the mariner might lead to the suspension or, in severe cases, revocation of the officer’s license. But there exists a caveat in the procedure: the officer can voluntarily hand over his license to avoid a formal trial.
This is precisely the route Sison took. On August 17th, the US Coast Guard’s Lieutenant Commander Orlando Hernandez, in the revised complaint, contended that in August 2019, a “junior crew member” consumed alcohol in Sison’s cabin to such an extent that she was rendered incapable of resisting or signaling her dissent to any unwelcome advances.
LCDR Hernandez elaborated, “The Coast Guard posits that Sison’s involvement in a sexual act with the incapacitated junior crew member constituted sexual abuse as detailed in 18 U.S.C. § 2242(2)(B).” Hernandez further highlighted the risk Sison’s purported actions posed not just to Midshipman Hicks but also the broader ship safety.
In light of these allegations, Hick’s attorney informed gCaptain that Sison has agreed to voluntarily relinquish his license, thereby sidestepping a formal hearing.
A Disappointed Hicks
Ryan Melogy, Hicks’ attorney, voiced his frustration with the Justice Department’s inaction, accentuated by the lengthy resolution timeline and overarching procedures.
In a recent statement to gCaptain, Melogy remarked, “This individual has been at sea the whole time. He might opt to surrender his license to halt the procedure, but we’re hoping against that outcome. We’re advocating for a public hearing.”
Given Sison’s voluntary license surrender, the chances for such a public hearing appear slim for Hicks and her legal counsel.
This news comes as the USCG is facing further scrutiny over its failure to arrest at-sea rapists or hold its own officers accountable for not fully pursuing previous Sexual Assault & Harassment (SASH) allegations.
In a recent hearing by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee, the focus was on the Coast Guard’s handling of the sexual assault scandal, Operation Fouled Anchor. Senators Maria Cantwell and Ted Cruz questioned Coast Guard Commandant Linda Fagan sharply, highlighting the Coast Guard’s inaction and lack of transparency in addressing SASH investigations. Chair of the Committee, Cantwell expressed outrage over the Coast Guard’s lack of accountability, demanding an Inspector General (IG) investigation. On his part, Cruz criticized the Coast Guard for not protecting its cadets who committed to serve the country. Both senators were particularly concerned about the Coast Guard’s withholding of information from Congress about a secretive investigation into a series of sexual assaults at the US Coast Guard Academy from the late 1980s to 2006.
This undisclosed investigation, named Operation Fouled Anchor, was revealed to the Committee only after CNN investigative reporters sought information. The probe, which spanned from the late 1980s to 2006, uncovered numerous instances of rape, assault, and misconduct at the US Coast Guard Academy. Shockingly, findings showed that the academy’s leadership was more inclined to protect its reputation rather than the victims. Admiral Fagan, the first woman to lead any branch of the military, admitted to the oversight and has since launched a 90-day transparency and accountability review. However, the broader maritime industry remains plagued with issues, especially highlighted by the Midshipman X scandal at the US Merchant Marine Academy, and subsequent revelations suggest there might be many more cases yet to be uncovered.
The USCG is also in charge of the United States delegation to the International Maritime Organization which, early this year, blocked a new SASH initiative a foreign-flagged shipping delegate proposed to bring awareness to the case. This came a full year after U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asked the USCG and IMO to take urgent action to prevent assault at sea.
“I want to emphasize one area where the need for action is particularly urgent,“ Buttigieg said in his address to the IMO in 2021. “For too long, sexual assault and sexual harassment in maritime shipping has been an open secret, affecting the industry around the world.”
Sison is not the first mariner to surrender his license after facing rape allegations. In 2022 Captain John Merrone American surrendered his license amid allegations that he raped a female U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadet and attempted to assault another while working on board a U.S.-flagged ship at sea. Sources close to the investigation tell gCaptain that the FBI is moving closer to an arrest in that case. Other cases – like the alleged assault of numerous women by the Chief Officer of the hospital ship USNS Mercy – have gone cold.
“License revocation is ok but we want arrests,” one US Merchant Marine officer and rape victim told gCaptain. “The USCG has reports of dozens of incidents of rapes, assaults and sexual harassment at sea but the USCG has made no arrests. Why?”
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