by John Konrad (gCaptain) This weekend the United States Navy removed the second in command of the Hospital Ship, USNS Mercy, while federal agents investigate allegations of sexual assault against a crew member.
The US Navy’s Military Sealift Command has confirmed to gCaptain that the Chief Mate – who, as second in command is equivalent to the Executive Officer (XO) aboard most navy ships – was escorted off the hospital ship by Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agents who are investigating allegations of sexual assault.
As of yet, no arrests have been made. NCIS says they can not comment on active investigations.
Related Article: Rape At Sea – An Open Letter To USMMA Midshipman X
The hospital ship USNS Mercy (and her sister ship USNS Comfort) is unusual because it has two Commanding Officers (CO) and two XOs. The ship itself is under the command of a US Merchant Marine Captain who does not hold a commission in the Navy and a Merchant Marine (CIVMAR) Chief Mate who serves as the ship’s executive officer. The hospital facilities aboard the ship, however, have a separate CO and XO who are commissioned US Navy officers.
The Naval officers aboard the Mercy have not been implicated in any wrongdoing.
According to a source close to the victim, after the XO was removed, several more crew members reported being harassed or assaulted by the US Merchant Marine XO.
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According to public sources, the executive officer is a native of White Plains New York and holds a bachelor’s degree and masters from New York Maritime College. Prior to joining Military Sealift Command (MSC), he worked as an officer aboard a ship operated by Maersk and American Presidents Lines. According to his LinkedIn profile, he joined MSC in 2015 and was promoted to Chief Mate in January of this year.
Also Read: US Admiral Refuses To Send SASH Report To Congress
Accountability At Sea
A senior US Naval officer told gCaptain that it’s unclear what agency could make an arrest considering the Executive Officer is a civilian and US Merchant Mariners working board US Navy ships are considered civilians not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) except during times of conflict. Further confusing the matter is that at least one reported incident allegedly occurred off-base in Guam and the fact that, in May, the US Navy published new rules removing the authority of unit commanders to investigate sexual crimes.
“The new Navy investigation rules came on the same day that the Sexual Harassment Independent Investigations and Prosecutions Act was introduced to Congress by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.),” says the military publication Task & Purpose. “And two years to the day after Army Pvt. Vanessa Guillén was reported missing from Fort Hood, Texas. Guillén, 20, was repeatedly sexually harassed by a noncommissioned officer in her unit before her death.”
It also comes just weeks after a Jury convicted 4 former Navy officers in ‘Fat Leonard’ scandal trial where lucrative ship-husbanding contracts were handed out to private contractors in exchange for prostitutes, lavish trips, and money.
The Navy has not commented on how many reports of assault or harassment occurred aboard the USNS Mercy. Both NCIS and Admiral John C. Aquilino the four-star officer in charge of US Navy Indo-Pacific Command sent us to Military Sealift Command for further comment.
A Mission Of Humanitarian Aid
The USNS Mercy is currently docked in Guam after visiting Vietnam during operation Pacific Partnership, a humanitarian mission that contributes to regional stability and security in the Indo-Pacific by providing engineering, medical, dental, veterinary, humanitarian aid, and disaster response services in the region.
The operation is an important element in the United State’s efforts to secure friendships in the South China Sea as China becomes more hostile to US Naval activity.
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Mercy is the largest hospital ship in the world and is one of two US military hospital ships, with 1,000 beds, 800 medical staff, emergency rooms, and intensive care units. Now in its 17th year, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific.
The USNS Mercy is most famous for it’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic when, from March until May 2020, the ship was docked at the Port Of Los Angeles cruise ship terminal under order from President Trump to provide relief to local hospitals that where overwhelmed by the pandemic.
Editorial Note: The USNS Mercy should not be confused with Mercy Ships, the international charity that provides medical aid to African nations.
Sexual Assaults Aboard Ship
This latest incident occurred just months after the XO’s former school, SUNY Maritime College, became entangled in a coverup of sexual misconduct that included a US Merchant Marine Admiral refusing to release a SASH report to Congress.
It comes just weeks after Midshipman Hope Hicks, a US Navy Reserve officer candidate and student at the US Merchant Marine Academy, revealed her identity as Midshipman X.
Last year Hicks grabbed international attention under the psdeduonym “Midshipman-X” after she anonymously shared her story about being raped in 2019 by a superior officer aboard a Maersk-owned containership under military contract.
No arrests have been made in the Midshipman X case or any other case involving the rape of US Merchant Marine and US Navy Reserve officers working aboard ship and, despite being fired by Maersk, Hick’s lawyer claims her assailant is back at sea working for the MEBA union.
Connect The Dots
If the reader is confused about how the US Merchant Marine, US Maritime Service, US Navy, and Military Sealift command are interrelated and who is responsible for investigations aboard ships under the command of US Merchant Marine captains, you are not alone. Our reporters are also confused as are officers gCaptain spoke with at Pacific Command, Seventh fleet, NCIS, the US Maritime Administration (MARAD), and the US Coast Guard.
A Harvard Law Journal paper on the legal status of US Merchant Mariners (who the Navy calls CIVMARS) aboard US Navy ships says that – while the U.S. Navy has long supported small numbers of mariners aboard warships – the unprecedented recent expansion of this civilian presence “presents unique legal challenges.” The report’s author – LT Elan R. Ghazal, JAGC – states that concerns will become more acute in the future as mounting fiscal pressures lead Pentagon planners to further rely on Merchant Mariners to meet manpower needs throughout the fleet.
The bottom line is that between this incident, the rape of the US Naval Reserve officer candidate Midshipman X, one uniformed Admiral’s refusal to answer congress, and dozens more incidents involving US Naval Reserve officers and candidates as well as US Merchant Marine officers reported by the non-profit sexual assault advocacy group Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy.
“The US Navy needs to help the US Maritime Administration and US Coast Guard sort out these legal issues,” said one former naval officer gCaptain interviewed. “I hope the Secretary of the Navy, CNO or the Secretary of Transportation steps in before this turns into our generation’s Tailhook Scandal.”
Also Read: Rape At Sea – An Open Letter To USMMA Midshipman X
Navy Command Firings
This is not the first senior officer aboard a naval ship relieved this year. The Navy has relieved 13 commanding officers and an undisclosed number of XO’s so far in 2022 including a Marine Corps officer who was working in a Navy command.
“The Navy tends to relieve leaders in clusters, and the firings have come thick and fast recently,” said Tasked & Purpose in an article about these firings. “In every case, the Navy said the men were relieved “due to loss of trust and confidence” in their ability to command rather than providing the exact reasons why they were fired with the exception of USS Preble commander Lesaca, whom a Navy spokesman told the San Diego Union Tribune was relieved after he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.”
The specific reasons for most of these firings are not known but “loss of trust and confidence” typically includes errors in judgment, civil arrests, poor performance, and sexual misconduct.
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