The U.S. Department of Transportation has taken the decision to pause the next cycle of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s Sea Year program, citing an ongoing sexual assault and sexual harassment scandal.
ore specifically, Sea Year provides the academy’s students with the opportunity to ship out on commercial vessels, and this is the second time in five years that the program has been paused over allegations of sexual misconduct at sea.
The decision was one of the most difficult we have faced. We stand in unwavering support of all survivors of [sexual assault and sexual harassment] at sea and throughout the entire campus, and we pledge to continue to work closely with you as we navigate the way forward
wrote DOT Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg, Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley and USMMA Superintendent Vice Adm. Jack Buono in a letter to midshipmen
The letter also acknowledged the disruption that the decision will cause for all midshipmen, who need to get enough sea time in order to obtain their licenses and graduate.
Nevertheless, DOT warned USMMA’s students not to retaliate against those who report allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
The decision comes after two anonymous accounts of alleged sexual assault against USMMA midshipmen on U.S. merchant vessels, both involving female victims and heavy alcohol use.
Namely, the first was published on September 27 by an individual dubbed “Midshipman X,” containing a graphic account of a rape perpetrated by a chief engineer on board a Maersk Line Limited vessel.
The second account includes two allegations of sexual assault against one cadet on one voyage, perpetrated by two different engineers.
Despite the recent allegations, it has come to our attention that DOT is considering sending cadets back to sea on commercial vessels in a matter of weeks with few meaningful changes or safeguards in place. While we understand that improved communication devices would be provided to each student, this course of action on its own falls short and is unacceptable
wrote Senator Maria Cantwell and Representatives Peter DeFazio, Adam Smith, Jackie Speier, Joe Courtney and Salud Carbajal.
Furthermore, the representatives demanded that USMMA replace its superintendent and “develop a public written action plan” to ensure cadet safety before Sea Year resumes.