Photo Of USMMA Midshipman With Class Ring

Photo Of USMMA Midshipman standing in formation at the ring ceremony. Photo via USMMA

Rape At Sea – An Open Letter To USMMA Midshipman X

John Konrad
Total Views: 27798
October 10, 2021

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) Today Deputy Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley ordered a one-day safety stand-down at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) to address the reported rape of a 19 year old college student, #MidshipmanX ,aboard a Maersk ship. The US Federal Government’s reaction has been swift and strong but the broader industry has mostly remained silent in the wake of this news.

Why? I don’t know.

Maybe some think that because it happened to a USMMA Midshipman, it’s a USMMA problem.  Some believe the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) should cancel Sea Year. We disagree. This is not a USMMA problem. USMAA is not the only college facing allegations from Maritime Legal Aid (MLA). In fact the President of Maine Maritime resigned soon after Maritime Legal Aid, the same website that shared the USMMA Midshipman’s story, worked with local journalists to expose a scandal in Castine, Maine. SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx has also been implicated by MLA for not reporting several serious sex crimes and allegations aboard MARAD training ships, during cadet shipping, and on campus. So has Texas A&M and other colleges

We don’t know what state colleges are doing to address these allegations, or even which allegations are true, but we can say without reservation that at the federal level Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg, and Lucinda Lessley, and Vice Admiral Jack Buono are taking decisive action.

They care and they are angry.

Maybe, because it happened aboard a Maersk ship, people think it’s a Maersk problem. Maybe other shipowners think sexual assaults could not happen aboard their ships. It is not a Maersk problem. This is an industry problem. No, not a problem, an industry crisis and Maersk Line Limited has stepped up with full media cooperation, an internal investigation, and press briefings.

They care. They are angry. They are concerned. 

Maybe people think it’s a women’s issue. Ally Cedeno of Women Offshore has burned the candle at both ends this week as women poured out of the woodwork to share with her their stories of sexual harassment and assault aboard ships around the world. She is working hard to give victims support while pushing for change. Her vast network of mentors and the Women Offshore board is working overtime to help. 

They care. They are angry. They want positive change.

Maybe people think it’s just an American problem? 

It is not, it’s just an American website that was first to publish this horrific crime. More will soon follow from around the world to share more difficult stories from overseas. Many around the world have written privately and share our concern.

We are angry. We are concerned. We want positive change.

I know little about rape at sea but I do know there is a silent minority of us who are angry and are pushing hard behind the scenes. There is a current of support for this woman and all women and men who have been raped and harassed at sea and some are starting to speak up. 

“Let’s be honest it’s an outrage,” said Peter Tirschwell, Vice President of IHSMarkit. “It needs fixing now. Let’s live up to our commitments”

“I am always so impressed by the female midshipmen and their excitement to work in the industry.” said Cedeno during her visit to USMMA as part of her organization’s work to support female midshipmen. “While there is so much opportunity for them, the shipping companies and US Coast Guard need to ensure a safe work environment for all.”

“As hard as it is to read – imagine how hard it is to endure, to live with, to write about,” said Jillian Carson-Jackson, President of The Nautical Institute. “To all the brave men and women who are survivors of assault – you are not alone. Our industry, our society, must do better and resources to help include Safer Waves.”

More will follow. 

But what should industry leaders say?

“Instead of spreading fear of retaliation,” said one unlikely source, the popular Instagram International Maritime Meme Organization (IMMO) today. “Fear of harassment and assault, and fear of false reporting, I urge you all to spread support for your shipmates. We all belong at sea.”

That is a good start.

It’s not much but it’s a start. We need more. We need a statement from the IMO, not just the IMMO. 

The rape of a young cadet should make the maritime industry recognize that it too, like a myriad of ousted politicians, Hollywood producers, professional sports leagues, boardrooms around the world has a problem that warrants collective action. The actions of one criminal should not blind the industry to its larger obligation to women, minorities, and any other who may feel marginalized.

This is the time for bold leadership, caring and thoughtful discussion and a decisive commitment to doing better. 

Please don’t let a narrow focus subvert this opportunity for an industry to do better. It’s not fair or productive to put the onus of blame on the organizations like Maersk and USMMA, who are taking decisive action. Nor is it fair to wait for a meme site to take a stand. Every maritime CEO,not just Søren Skou, every flag state, port state, chamber of commerce, classification society, union, and maritime NGO can take out a pen right now and write a statement of support to Midshipman X. 

We will start:

Dear Midshipman X,

I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul. Words that should be required reading for men and women of all ages and at all levels in our industry.

Words that made me cry. Words that took courage to share. Words I wish you never had to write. Words I pray my daughter never does.

As a US Merchant Mariner I am in awe of your courage. I hereby petition MARAD to decorate your courage with a DOT medal. A medal you may not want but absolutely deserve. 

As an author I am in awe of you for so clearly naming the wrongs that were done to you and so passionately asserting your equal claim to human dignity.

As a human I am filled with furious anger — both that this happened to you and for our industry’s silent reaction to your story.

It must have been wrenching — to relive what this criminal did to you all over again. But you did it anyway, in the hope that your strength might prevent this crime from happening to someone else. Your bravery is breathtaking.

It fills me with fear knowing that this man has not been arrested by flag or port state. I feel confused and weak when I wonder why neither the USCG nor FBI have issued a statement.

You are a warrior — a Merchant Marine warrior – with a solid steel spine as strong and determined as those who a we recognize when the USMMA World War II regimental battle standard proudly fly’s.

I do not know your name — but I know that a lot of people failed you that terrible night aboard your ship.

I do not know your name — but I know many women who have shared horrific at sea accounts with us.

Everyone in that cabin who saw that you were incapacitated yet looked the other way and did not offer assistance. Anyone who dismissed what happened to you as “just another crazy night.” Anyone who asked “what did you expect would happen when you drank that much?” or thought you must have brought it on yourself. Anyone who did not call the designated person ashore immediately.

You were failed by a mariner culture that has gone on for year after year after year for centuries. Centuries of rape – first of men, now of men and women – at sea. A culture that promotes passivity. A culture that is not understood and mostly igonred by our society. A culture encourages seafarers to simply turn a blind eye.

It’s obscene, and it’s a failure that lies at all our feet. We mariners have much to be proud of but not this. Never this.

And you were failed by anyone who dared to question this one clear and simple truth: Sex without consent is rape. Period. It is a crime.

I do not know your name — but I know your uniform. The proud uniform of the US Merchant Marine you put on everyday – a uniform that’s been sadly forgotten outside the gates of USMMA – but is still worn by at least one hero today.

I do not know your name — but I see your unconquerable spirit. I know of your impossible dream.

I see the limitless potential of an incredibly talented young woman — full of possibility. I see the shoulders on which our dreams for the future rest.

I see you.

You will never be defined by what the rapist bragged about to other officers.

He will be. And so will be all the officers who turned a blind eye to this incident or the toxic ship culture that began fermenting long before you even joined.

I join your growing chorus of supporters, because we can never say enough to survivors: I believe you. It is not your fault.

What you endured is never, never, never, NEVER a woman’s fault.

And while the Maritime Administration has vowed to protect you, your fellow seafarers are not satisfied how you, and how too many sailors, have been treated during this most difficult year.

And that is why we will continue to speak out.

We will strike if we must.

We will speak to change the culture not just aboard our ships but in our board rooms, at conferences, and to our legislators. To a world that doesn’t understand the importance of your shipping or the sacrifices you have made — a culture that continues to ask the wrong questions: What were you wearing?

Why were you there? What did you say? How much did you drink?

Instead of asking: Why did he think he had license to rape?

We demand that our industry leaders speak out against those who seek to engage in plausible deniability. Those who know that this is happening, but don’t want to get involved. Who believe that this ugly crime is “complicated.”

We demand they speak of you MidshipmanX — you who remain anonymous not only to protect your identity, but because you so eloquently represent “every woman.”

The Merchant Marine does not have a tomb of the unknown soldier but now, we have you. We stand behind you.

We will make lighthouses of ourselves, as you did — and shine.

Your story has already changed lives.

You have helped change the culture.

You are shaking untold thousands out of the torpor and indifference towards sexual violence that allows this problem to continue.

Your words will help people you have never met and never will.

You have given them the strength they need to fight.

And so, I believe, you will save lives.

I do not know your name — but I will never forget you.

And if everyone who shared your letter on social media, or who had a private conversation in their own homes with their daughters and sons, draws upon the passion, the outrage, and the commitment they feel right now the next time there is a choice between intervening and walking away — then I believe you will have helped to change the world for the better.


Captain John A Konrad V
US Merchant Marine

We stand by every word in this statement but, I must admit, these are not my words. They are the words of the many strong women and men I have interviewed with this week intertwined with those of the Commander In Chief of the US Maritime Service. They are literally his words, plus theirs, not mine.

I’m not a president or a poet. I am a sailor. So rather than express every emotion, I will simply state what I feel most deeply and let others in our industry follow in the wake and say the more. I do hope they follow and say more.

Midshipman X, Thank you for being you. -John

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