(KINGS POINT, N.Y.) — Allegations of rape are “widespread in the container shipping industry,” according to a female cadet at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) at Kings Point, who claims she was raped while serving a year at sea on a Maersk Line vessel, The Loadstar reported.
Five Maersk crewmembers reportedly have been suspended, but the alleged victim claims that of the 50 women in her year at USMMA, all reported sexual harassment – including at least five rapes – while at sea.
The cadet became a victim’s advocate (VA) on her return from her Sea Year. “The number of girls who have come to me to report a case of sexual assault is absolutely sickening,” she said. “Since returning from sea I have learned of additional women in lower classes who were also raped during sea year, and I know that there are at least 10 young women currently enrolled at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy who were raped during their Sea Year. And there are cases I don’t know about.”
In detailing her alleged assault on the Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy (MLAA) website, the cadet painted a picture of drunkenness and lewd behavior and talked of being heavily pressured to drink strong alcoholic drinks to the point where she was unable to protect herself, according to The Loadstar.
Maersk Line told The Loadstart that it is investigating “a recent anonymous posting of an alleged sexual assault of a cadet onboard a U.S.-flag vessel in 2019.” The company said it was “working closely with the U.S. labor unions who represent the officers and crew, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, where the cadet is enrolled, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd), which oversees the academy and U.S. maritime industry, the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees MarAd, and the U.S. Coast Guard, which enforces U.S.-flag regulations and laws.”
In a letter posted Oct. 2 on the USMMA website, Polly Trottenberg, deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation, told the Kings Point community that “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. The U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy are committed to her safety and welfare, along with that of all midshipmen at USMMA, and we stand ready to provide our support to her and to all survivors.”
“Providing resources for students after these events happen is not enough. We must prevent them from occurring in the first place,” Trottenberg continued in the letter, which was co-signed by Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley. “We have zero tolerance 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 Kings Point community.”