United States Merchant Marine Academy Chapel and Memorial Bell. Image: fisheradam13/Shutterstock

New York Lawmakers Call for Investigation of Merchant Marine Academy Cadet’s Alleged Sexual Assault

Mike Schuler
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October 6, 2021

U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Long Island, Queens) and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have called for an immediate investigation after an unidentified female Midshipman at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY alleged she was sexually assaulted during her Sea Year training on board a U.S. flag Maersk Line, Limited ship.

The victim told her story in an article published by a whistleblower website which works to expose incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment within the U.S. merchant marine. In her article, she details how she was raped by her supervisor, the ship’s First Engineer, during her Sea Year training in the Middle East. The ship and identities of anyone involved were not disclosed, but the victim did point to broader problems involving other female Midshipmen at the federal service academy.

“The recent allegation regarding the sexual assault of a female cadet during Sea Year is deeply disturbing and demands an immediate investigation,” said Congressman Suozzi and Senator Gillibrand said in a joint statement issued Tuesday. “Aspiring cadets at the US Merchant Marine Academy should be able to focus on getting the valuable hands-on skills and training that Sea Year provides them, without fear of sexual harassment, assault, and violence.”

In releasing the statement, the lawmakers join the U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration and Maersk Line, Limited in offering support to the victim and others who may have had similar experiences at USMMA.

“In 2017, we worked relentlessly to ensure that major provisions of the Merchant Marine Academy Improvement Act were signed into law – legislation that provided additional resources to make Sea Year safer, address sexual assault, and ensure that Academy staff have appropriate training and resources to respond to and prevent sexual assault on campus and at sea,” said Suozzi and Gillibrand.

The Merchant Marine Academy Improvement Act of 2017, which was sponsored by Sen. Gillibrand, addresses sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, including to make the academy subject to title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which prohibits sexual discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities.

The law followed a “Sea Year Stand Down” initiated by the Department of Transportation in 2016 following unspecified incidents of sexual harassment and assault, hazing, bullying, coercion, and retaliation involving students at the school and during Sea Year training. The program was eventually reinstated in 2017 following a lengthy independent review and new polices put in place to ensure that the academy’s standards were being upheld.

“We must ensure that incidents of sexual harassment and assault are reported and prioritized and that every single cadet feels safe whether on campus or at sea. We will continue to work closely with the Merchant Marine Academy to put systems in place to ensure timely and thorough reporting,” the statement from Suozzi and Gillibrand adds.

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

Maersk Line, Limited said previously it was investigating the recently publicized incident and initiating a “top to bottom” review of its shipboard policies.

“The allegations in the posting are very disturbing, and Maersk LIne Limited (MLL) has initiated an investigation in an attempt to identify the vessel and the personnel involved, as well as the relevant facts surrounding the alleged incident. MLL has a strict and explicit zero tolerance policy for assault, harassment or discrimination of any kind, and if the allegations in the posting are confirmed, MLL will ensure there is full accountability,” the company said.

Maersk Line, Limited is the U.S. flag arm of Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller – Maersk  and operates a fleet of 20 U.S. flag containerships working in support of the United States government.

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