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Ocean Rebellion protest

Ocean Rebellion protesters outside IMO Headquarters in London.

Who Blocked The IMO From Passing New Midshipman X Initiatives?

John Konrad
Total Views: 4570
February 10, 2022

Did the US Coast Guard just block an important #MidshipmanX Sexual Assualt And Harassment (SASH) initiative at the IMO? Who are the members of the United State’s IMO delegation? Why are they not listed on the USCG’s IMO webpage? Who is holding them accountable?

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) This week the US Senate passed a landmark #MeToo Bill to ease workplace lawsuits, but progress seems to be stalled on efforts to support victims of harassment at sea. Who is to blame?

Since the IMO Convention entered into force over 50 years ago, the United States delegation to the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) has played a critical role in all IMO policy development.  According to the Navigational Center For Excellence, the U.S. Coast Guard represents the United States at the IMO.

Also Read: Rape At Sea – An Open Letter To USMMA Midshipman X

Representation is important for mariners because IMO conventions are supported by hundreds of recommendations that govern every aspect of shipping, including safety, environmental concerns, legal concerns, technical cooperation, maritime security, and shipping efficiency. 

This is also important because gCaptain received information from a foreign flag representative of the UN body that the “US Delegation has shot down an important SASH Initiative“. Typically when something like this happens we reach out to our vast network of industry leaders to verify the source but, this time, something unusual happened. Very few of our sources even know the names of the US delegates.

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Just the fact that the US delegation is run by a branch of the US military rather than the civilian US Maritime Administration is unusual. In contrast, the US delegation to the ICAO – International Civil Aviation Organization, the aviation equivalent of the IMO – in Montreal is not run by the US Air Force, but rather by a separate group known as the USICAO that “works closely with the FAA and US Department of Transportation.”

Also read: Is The UN Shipping Agency, The IMO, Still Fit For Purpose?

Not only is the US delegation part of the US armed forces, which makes information discovery difficult for journalists, but the IMO itself is a veritable black box. When an important initiative gets blocked in the United States journalists can file a Freedom of Information Act request and mariners can call their representative in congress but the IMO doesn’t play by the same rules.

A lack of transparency at the IMO came to a head in October 2020 when several prominent news organizations, including the BBC and Forbes, questioned the IMO’s response to the Wakashio oil spill in Mauritius.

Also Read: Watch An IMO ‘Expert’ Give Mauritius The Worst Advice Ever

On September 17th, Dr. Gurib-Fakim – a world-leading biodiversity scientist and former President of Mauritius- told the BBC,  “Mauritius is still in a State of National Environmental Emergency.  Information should be shared for the public records.  We are angry and demand transparency from international organizations like the IMO operating in our country. There has still not been a joint press conference with all international organizations operating in Mauritius, and we have been left totally in the dark.  This is utterly unacceptable.”  

The following month, Nishan Degnarain – former Chairman of Global Agenda Council on Oceans at the World Economic Forum – wrote in Forbes “It is extraordinary that an international United Nations Agency could be ignoring such calls, not meeting with all critical stakeholders in Mauritius, all the while getting fundamental oil spill response steps wrong.”

It has been nearly six months since Maritime Legal Aid first reported the story of Midshipman X, a 19-Year-Old Naval officer Raped by a 60+-Year-Old 1st Engineer Aboard a Maersk Ship, and five months since I wrote an open letter to our industry about the critical importance of this topic. Yet, despite a plea to the IMO by former US Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, MARAD, the US Senate, the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA), Women Offshore, Maersk and others (including the USCG’s own 4-star Admiral, Karl Schultz)… a search of the IMO’s website for any information about rape at sea still returns ZERO results (apart from a half dozen pages about rapeseed oil).

Search of conducted by gCpatain on 10Feb2022

By contrast, an internal search of the official USCG and ICAO websites results in many pages of information about rape (but still zero results from the Coast Guard for the term “Midshipman X”.)

Did the United States Delegation to the IMO block an important Sexual Harassment initiative initially proposed by a White House Cabinet member? Was USCG leadership involved in the decision? Why haven’t arrests been made in the Midshipman X case? What are the IMO, USCG, MARAD, Maersk, and others doing today to prevent rapes at sea?

Why have all government agencies and representative bodies been silent on this topic for months?

These are questions we can not answer. Even more concerning is we don’t even know who our readers should reach out to with questions. Questions like “What is the USCG’s IMO Delegation doing to address Secretary Buttigieg’s plead for Midshipman X reforms?” or even much broader questions like “Why Is The US Merchant Marine So Rusted And Broken?” We don’t even know who the members of the US delegation are apart from old information published by frustrated non-profit and very rare media appearances by key delegate members.

And this is not just a US Delegation problem. We don’t know if other member countries – including those from the most socially progressive EU nations – are willing to stand in their support of Midshipman X or work to maintain the status quo?

— To be clear the status quo is the unabated and unchecked harassment, assault, and rape of seafarers. —

Most concerning of all…. the US delegation to the IMO has blocked the only SASH initiative ever presented to the IMO. They have blocked it despite promises of better oversight from US Senators, a US Cabinet member, and the USCG Commandant himself. They have blocked it without submitting an alternate plan.

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