The recently reported cases of abuse on commercial ships are shocking but sadly not that unusual according to Charles Watkins, CEO of Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS).
As Mr. Watkins says, “the cases which have been widely reported in the press have taken place on a number of container ships.” In fact, MHSS notes that it has seen many cases not just of abuse against seafarers but of sexual assault, mostly against women working in shipping but occasionally men.
We find that women are more likely to reach out to us than men, but both find that it is difficult to report incidences of harassment or assault because it is often a higher-ranking seafarer who is responsible for the abuse so they feel at risk of a negative review or a conflict that may cost them their career
Mr Watkins explains, adding that “although cases of abuse or assault may vary in nature, best practice requires every company to have a very clear and strict policy in place that is communicated to all ranks.”
To provide a solution to the issue, Mr Watkins suggests that “there should be trainings about safeguarding people which define the consequences for sexual harassment.”
In addition, companies should have a direct line set up where people can reach someone in the office who can help immediately, and this number should be displayed on all vessels where all ranks can see it.
Finally, companies should investigate cases properly and meticulously and shouldn’t be afraid to let higher ranking officers go should a case be proven to be indeed sexual harassment or abuse.
For those seafarers who do experience abuse of any nature, Mr Watkins urges them to follow these steps:
- Tell the person to stop in very clear terms.
- Keep a record of all incidences – what happened exactly and when, where did it occur – if there were any witnesses, ask them to help out.
- Go to a higher ranking official to get help and consult. If it’s the captain causing the problem, contact the office – every company should have a direct line for reporting these types of incidences.
- Contact emergency services like radio medical advice and mental health support.
Recently, Maersk Line, Limited was hit with two lawsuits claiming that it failed to protect US Merchant Marine Academy mishipmen from sexual assault and harrassment, according to the law firm representing two victims.
One of the victims was known as “Midshipman-X” after she anonymously shared her story about how she was raped by her superior on board a Maersk Line, Limited during her Sea Year training in 2019. The second lawsuit is the process of being refiled due to a procedural issue.
The complaints allege that Maersk failed to adequately protect U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen from sexual assault and sexual harassment while working aboard Maersk ships as part of the USMMA’s “Sea Year” program.
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