Maersk Rape Case: USMMA To Resume Sea Year Training With Mandatory Safety Standards

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) along with the Maritime Administration (MARAD) is all set to restart the infamous Sea Year training for the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) midshipmen, backed by mandatory new policies and procedures for the protection against sexual harassment and assault.

Maersk Rape Case: USMMA To Resume Sea Year Training With Mandatory Safety Standards
Midshipmen In The USMMA | Courtesy: AP Photo / Will Newton

Related Read: U.S. Transport Secretary Urges IMO to Address Sexual Assault At Sea

USMMA’s Sea Year training program, which was temporarily stopped in early November, owing to multiple allegations of sexual assaults, including the infamous Maersk Rape Case is scheduled to resume from 22nd December, with new practices and policies in place. The six State Maritime Academies have confirmed their support for the planned safety standards, which will be made mandatory, said DOT.

Sea Year training is basically a sailing period during a merchant marine cadet’s sophomore year, including another longer sailing sailing period during the cadet’s junior year. This enables the cadets to undergo the required training period at the sea which is necessary to become eligible for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) merchant officer license examination.

A detailed review of both the existing Sea Year requirements for commercial carriers, as well as the policies and procedures which are in place at the USMMA have been conducted by DOT, MARAD and USMMA. Recommendations for actions to reinforce safety at the high seas for cadets were also sought after, for a wide range of stakeholders, which includes industry, labor, advocacy groups which are working for the prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment, the Federal agencies, the Congress, the USCG, as well as USMMA cadets and alumni.

Since the announcement of the pause last month, DOT, MARAD, and USMMA have conducted a detailed review of both the existing Sea Year requirements for commercial carriers as well as the policies and procedures in place at USMMA. They also sought recommendations regarding actions to strengthen safety at sea for cadets from a wide range of stakeholders, including industry, labor, advocacy groups working to combat sexual assault and harassment, Congress, and Federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as USMMA midshipmen and alumni.

Read Our Original Report On The Maersk Rape Case: 19 Year Old Engine Cadet Raped At Sea: US Merchant Marine Academy Faces Questions

Lucinda Lessley, the Acting Maritime Administrator said, “The plan we are launching today represents the collective commitment of DOT, MARAD, USMMA, and the six State Maritime Academies to strengthen safety for cadets aboard commercial vessels, and to support an inclusive culture that prioritizes preventing sexual assault and harassment and supporting survivors. The plan is an initial step, and all parties are committed to continuing to review this program frequently, and to make improvements whenever needed to ensure the safety and success of cadets.”

All of this comes after an anonymous essay was posted online, where a female Midshipman alleged with she was she was raped by a supervisor onboard a U.S.-flagged Maersk vessel, during her Sea Year training in the Middle East. This gathered worldwide support form every stakeholder of the maritime industry and beyond, which prompted investigations by both the U.S. government as well as Maersk, which suspended five officers, with their investigative outcomes being pending. Since the incident, a lot has happened at the USMMA as well as the entire American maritime industry, which includes the USMMA suspending its Sea Year training, resignation of USMMA Superintendent Vice Admiral Jack Buono as well as the introduction of a new bill to address sexual assault at sea.

After the suspension of the Sea Year training at the USMMA was initiated, several stakeholders of the maritime industry as well as the majority of midshipmen at the USMMA have expressed their concern regarding the same, and have voiced for the importance of the sea year training at the academy. Midshipmen at the USMMA had further penned down a letter in response to the Congressmen.

“Safety at sea requires teamwork both aboard vessels and between the vessel and shoreside management. Workplace climates which enable sexual offenses erode trust and teamwork and put mariners’ lives at risk. Sexual assault is a crime. When they happen aboard a U.S. vessel it must be reported to the Coast Guard. Coast Guard investigators will respond, and we will hold offenders accountable,” said Rear Admiral John Mauger, the Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy.

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Two documents were released in the announcement by DOT and MARAD to reinstating the Sea Year, which are:

  • The Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture (EMBARC) program, administered by MARAD, which enumerates more than 30 new safety measures that commercial carriers will be required to meet before they can be enrolled in the EMBARC program and approved to carry cadets. The EMBARC program?also sets forth a process and protocols for ensuring continuous review and improvement.
  • The second document enumerates new policies and procedures that will be implemented at USMMA to support implementation of the EMBARC program and to increase the support provided to cadets while they are at sea. Among other new policies and procedures, USMMA will provide additional pre-Sea Year training and a satellite phone that enables cadets to have voice communication with family and friends as well as Academy personnel and other support resources while embarked at sea. USMMA has also recently implemented a new amnesty policy that ensures that survivors who report sexual assault, as well as intervening bystanders and witnesses, will not be subject to discipline for a violation of the alcohol or drug use policy occurring at or near the time of the commission of the assault.

RADM Bill Brennan, the Chairman of the Consortium of State Maritime Academies stated, “We fully support the Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (SASH) Prevention Mandatory Minimum Standards articulated in the Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture (EMBARC standards) for U.S. flag Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) vessels engaged in international trade. We believe these standards will help ensure a safe and healthy work environment for our cadets onboard these vessels.”

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