by John Konrad (gCaptain) It’s been over a year since Midshipman X, US Merchant Marine Academy student Hope Hicks, took the brave step of sharing her story of being raped aboard a Maersk ship but her alleged assailant has not been arrested and continues to work on ships. Today, CNN reported the second case of alleged college student rape aboard an American-flagged ship and they exposed the name of Midshipman X2’s alleged rapist, Captain John Merrone.
Sources close to the investigation tell gCaptain that, last year, Midshipman X2 reported being raped aboard an American-flagged cargo ship sailing in the Atlantic. According to CNN the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) alleges that Captain Merrone drugged two cadets and, once incapacitated, raped one cadet and attempted to sexually assault the other.
Midshipman X – A Year Later
The U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) is responsible for investigating rapes aboard American ships and they work with USCG Administrative Law Judges and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to revoke the license and arrest sexual predators, but the process is slow and few suspects are ever penalized. This means that, while the slow wheels of justice turn, accused predators are usually allowed to continue working with young sailors in waters hundreds of miles from police and 911 emergency services.
Sources inside the USCG and Maersk have privately confirmed that marine engineer Edgar Sison was fired by Maersk after Midshipman X’s accusation against him went public but reports vary on why his license has not been revoked and why the DOJ has not made an arrest. Midshipman X’s attorney, Ryan Melogy, claims that he continues to sail with other MEBA union-affiliated companies and that the DOJ is still investigating but it’s not clear to gCaptain reporters if the DOJ considers Midshipman X’s allegations to be credible.
“These cases of are tragic and reflect many women’s experiences at sea,” said Ally Cedeno a widely respected victims advocate and founder of Women Offshore. “Our industry is long overdue for change. Accountability must be a top priority.”
This new case is no different. In a statement released to CNN the USCG said it initiated an investigation of Captain Merrone as soon as it learned of the allegations. Officers told CNN that two separate probes were initiated by CGIS, but “they are not being pursued for prosecution by the Department of Justice and are closed.” The DOJ did not comment and Merrone’s attorney denied the allegations on his client’s behalf.
What is different about the new Midshipman X2 case is there are multiple victims, the students were allegedly drugged, and the accused rapist has faced prior allegations.
This case is also troubling for another reason. Because large cargo ships sail far from the reach of law enforcement, ship masters like Merrone have wide-ranging authority, including keys to every space (including student cabins), control over medical care, and the authority to imprison crew and restrict meals.
“Ship Captains have powers not seen anywhere else in modern society,” said one American ship captain. “Even commanding officers of US Navy warships – who have secure communications with land, often sail with JAG officers, and must adhere to strict SASH policies – don’t have the same level of control over an individual sailor’s life.”
Previous Allegations Of Rape
According to Florida court records, in 2011 a woman testified that Merrone lured her into his apartment by offering to rent her a room. She testified that when she wanted to leave, Merrone blocked the exit and soon she “found herself on Merrone’s bed with all her clothes off” where he forcibly raped her. Later, after vomiting, she said Merrone “prevented her from reaching her cell phone to call for help by grabbing her toe and breaking it. After breaking her toe, she said, Merrone raped her again. She eventually fought him off and ran out of the apartment with her belongings.
Merrone was arrested and sentenced by a jury to two years in prison for false imprisonment and battery, but his conviction was overturned in appeals court.
Captain Merrone is a graduate of SUNY Maritime College and is a member of the American Maritime Officers union.
CNN did not include the company’s name, the date of the incident, or other specific details from the complaint that may inadvertently identify the alleged victims in their report. gCaptain has discussed the case with the owners of Midshipman X2’s ship who say they did not receive allegations of sexual assault by Merrone but are now cooperating fully with investigators.
Merrone ceased working for the company in 2021 for “reasons unrelated to any sexual assault/sexual harassment allegation,” but it’s unclear if he took employment with another company.
US Maritime Service Commandant Ann Phillips, who’s department – MARAD – runs the US Merchant Marine Academy, said in a statement to CNN that a culture change is “urgently needed,” and that the agency has been continuing to strengthen protections for students. The agency pointed to new safety standards that shipping companies must meet in order to carry academy students during its training program.
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