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Senator Cantwell Requests Info from MARAD Related to Merchant Marine Academy Sexual Assaults and Harassment

Mike Schuler
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October 12, 2021

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), in her capacity as Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has sent a letter to Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lesley requesting information related to investigations into reported allegations of sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment by Midshipmen at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.

The letter comes in response to an allegation made by an anonymous USMMA Midshipman that she was raped during her Sea Year training by a supervisor on board a Maersk Line, Limited ship. The allegation was published late last month alongside other victims’ stories by Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy (MLAA), an advocacy group seeking to expose incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment within the U.S. merchant marine.

In the letter to Acting Administrator Lessley, Senator Cantwell requests that information is submitted to the Committee related to steps taken by the Maritime Administration (MARAD), the U.S. Department of Transportation, and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy to investigate the allegation and others made on the MLAA website, as well as actions taken in response to any findings from those investigations.

“The maritime industry and United States Merchant Marine are a vital part of our national security and our nation’s economy. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other offenses are unacceptable, and the USMMA must immediately take action to stop this behavior and protect the men and women of the USMMA both at the Academy, and at sea. To that end, I request responses to these questions (posted below) no later than October 26, 2021.”

The letter also “CC’s” US Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant.

In addressing the one incident involving its ship, A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, parent to Maersk Line, Limited, issued a series of tweets on Tuesday in support of the anonymous Midshipman in addition to disclosing steps the company has taken thus far to address the issue, including confirming the suspension of five officers and crew amid its own investigation into the incident in question.

“It is our first priority to find out what happened and make sure that broader actions are taken. All elements in this story goes against our values and everything we believe in as a company,” Maersk said in its tweets.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that all of our workplaces, including vessels, are safe and welcoming. We have strict and explicit policies in place, and we will now examine all processes with critical eyes to understand how they can be improved.”

Maersk Line, Limited, which operates a fleet of 20 U.S. flag containerships working in support of the United States government, said previously it was investigating the incident and initiating a “top to bottom” review of its shipboard policies.

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. 

In 2016, a “Sea Year Stand Down” was initiated by the Department of Transportation 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.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is composed of 28 Senators and seven subcommittees, which together oversee issues related to communications, highways, aviation, rail, shipping, transportation security, merchant marine, the Coast Guard, oceans, fisheries, weather, disasters, science, space, interstate commerce, tourism, consumer issues, economic development, technology, competitiveness, product safety, and insurance.

The information Senator Cantwell requested includes the following:

  1. How many reports of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment or related offenses have been reported by or concerning midshipmen of the USMMA in the last 10 years? Please provide a breakdown of these reports that includes whether the incidents occurred on campus, off campus, or at sea during Sea Year, the party that conducted the investigation(s), and the outcome of that investigation.
  2. In the event that a midshipman is removed from a vessel following a sexual assault or harassment report(s), does USMMA remove all midshipmen onboard the vessel for their Sea Year? Please include copies of the USMMA policy, regulation or other guidance on this matter.
  3. If a vessel or its parent company is the subject of a sexual assault or sexual harassment complaint, does the USMMA assign midshipmen to those vessels in the future? Please include copies of the USMMA policy, regulation or other guidance on this matter.
  4. In the event that a midshipman makes an informal or formal complaint of sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination, may they request to be assigned to a different vessel for the duration of their Sea Year? Please include copies of the USMMA policy, regulation or other guidance on this matter.
  5. What actions can be and have been taken by the Coast Guard to withdraw or suspend credentials of mariners with a history of allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Sea Year midshipmen?

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