An American ship captain has 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, according to an exclusive report by Long Island-focussed Newsday.
The captain, who is identified in the report as John Christopher Merrone, reportedly surrendered his Merchant Mariner Credentials to the U.S. Coast Guard voluntarily last month, thereby preventing him from working at sea, following a complaint alleging that he drugged two female cadets and sexually assaulted one of them.
The incident was first reported by CNN in early October. According to the Newsday report, the incident took place on a Liberty Maritime Corporation ship. The company has requested that we withhold the name and date of the incident to protect the identities of the victims.
“Liberty Maritime Corporation takes sexual assault/sexual harassment (SASH) allegations extremely seriously as the safety of our staff and crew is a cornerstone of our management philosophy and is most highly valued,” the company said in a statement provided to gCaptain. “We condemn in the strongest possible way such behavior and emphasize that the company maintains a zero-tolerance policy for SASH. This incident violated every tenant of our corporate ethos, our HR policies, training, and the expectations we have for each and every one of our valued employees.”
“Our focus is on understanding how these events unfolded and ensuring the safety of all seafarers on our vessels. As such, we are conducting an internal investigation into the allegations.”
The Coast Guard Investigative Service referred the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District, which has declined to prosecute. Merrone has denied the allegations against him and has not been charged.
The company confirms that Merrone has not been employed at the company since 2021.
The incident follows explosive revelations of instances of sexual assault and harassment against female cadets during sea year training while attending USMMA after an anonymous blog post published last year from a female victim and student at the federal service academy. Her report claimed she was raped by a superior officer while serving as an engine cadet aboard a U.S.-flagged Maersk Line, Limited ship during her sea year training in the Middle East in 2019. The victim, who became known as Midshipman X, later revealed herself as Hope Hicks.
Maersk Line, Limited, which is the U.S.-flag arm of Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk that provides ocean transportation services to the U.S. government, is facing two lawsuits claiming that the company failed to protect USMMA midshipmen from sexual assault and harassment. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of Hicks and a second unidentified USMMA student who claims she also experienced extreme sexual harassment, unwanted touching and discrimination while on board the same MLL ship as Hicks two years later.
USMMA’s Sea Year training program was temporarily paused in November 2021 after Hicks’ story became public, but the program was reinstated about a month later with new policies and procedures in place to protect cadets against sexual assault and sexual harassment.
“[The Maritime Administration] has strengthened measures that will help prevent sexual assault and harassment, aggressively prosecute perpetrators, and improve support for survivors — while supporting urgently needed culture change in the maritime industry to make it safer for all mariners,” Maritime Administrator Ann Phillips said in a statement reported by Newsday.
Merrone was previously accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Florida in 2011 for which he sentenced to two years in prison for battery and false imprisonment. His conviction was later overturned on appeal.
Sign up for our newsletter