In late September 2021, an anonymous member of the class of 2022 at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) at King’s Point, New York, submitted an account detailing her alleged sexual assault during her Sea Year. According to her writing, she was raped by the first engineer aboard her vessel (who was her supervisor as a member of the engine department).
The anonymous victim’s report is posted online on the website of the organization Maritime Legal Aid and Advocacy. She describes sexual harassment as a common occurrence among the female students at King’s Point.
In a joint letter addressed to the “Kings Point Community” and dated Oct. 2, U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg and Acting U.S. Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley said, “We write today to express our unwavering support for the individual who has shared her story of a sexual assault that took place during Sea Year. Providing resources for students after these events happen is not enough. We must prevent them from occurring in the first place. We have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and sexual harassment at USMMA and in the maritime industry. As we determine the appropriate steps required to increase and ensure the safety of our midshipmen, we pledge to listen to and work closely with the entire Kings Point community.”
AP Moller-Maersk (APMM) is investigating the case, which was alleged to have occurred aboard a vessel operated by its U.S.-flag subsidiary, Maersk Line, Limited (MLL). The company has launched a comprehensive inquiry, and suspended five officers in relation to the case pending the outcome of their investigation.
“There are enough details for us to be able to identify which ship and which employees are involved. That is why we have something that forms the basis for initiating an investigation, and that is why we have suspended the five involved officers who [were] on the ship,” APMM Technical Manager Palle Laursen stated. “We are deeply shaken by this. The way in which the incident is described is not only contrary to ordinary decency, but also in particular to our values and what we stand for in Maersk.”
MLL President and CEO Bill Woodhour said, “We are shocked and deeply saddened about what we have read. We take this situation seriously and are disturbed by the allegations made in this anonymous posting, which has only recently been brought to our attention. We do everything we can to ensure that all of our workplace environments, including vessels, are a safe and welcoming workplace, and we’ve launched a top to bottom investigation.”
The Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) released an anti-harassment statement, which reads in part: “Sexual harassment and assault have no place in our Union or on our vessels. The Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association is committed to providing workplaces that are free of sexual harassment, assault, or other unwanted behavior. Simply put, M.E.B.A. will not tolerate sexual harassment or assault by any of its members or applicants.” The statement, which is available on their website, also provided contact methods for reporting any sexual harassment or sexual assault on board a vessel.
The SIU and its affiliated Paul Hall Center in Piney Point, Maryland, also weighed in, noting that the union and school take these types of allegations very seriously and believe that no one should be harassed or assaulted on the job (or anywhere else). That is why preventive lessons regarding sexual assault/sexual harassment regularly are taught at the school.
Meanwhile, this is not the first instance of alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault issues stemming from the USMMA and Sea Year. After a series of reports in 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation temporarily halted USMMA’s Sea Year program for a review of its sexual assault/sexual harassment prevention protocols.