‘Midshipman X’, Maersk Line Ltd. reach settlement

Hope Hicks

NEW YORK — The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) cadet who recounted her rape aboard an American ship under the pseudonym “Midshipman X” has reached a settlement with Maersk Line, Limited (MLL).

Attorneys representing Hope Hicks, who used the name “Midshipman X” in an online essay published in fall 2021, announced Friday in a joint statement with MLL that the case had been resolved.

Terms of the settlement agreement were not disclosed, and the statement said both sides have agreed not to discuss it.

“It is important to me that my case has brought greater awareness of the issue of sexual assault and harassment at sea. The leadership of MLL has expressed the need for change,” Hicks said in a statement. “The changes that MLL has proposed are an important first step, but there is still a lot of work to be done in the maritime industry.”

Hicks’ essay described in searing detail how her engineering supervisor on the U.S.-flagged ship Alliance Fairfax plied her with alcohol and then raped her in her cabin several years ago. The attack happened while the ship was underway in the Middle East.

Hicks worked on the vessel during mandatory Sea Year training through the USMMA. She was the only female on the ship. Court documents filed five months ago said she continues to suffer severe and ongoing emotional distress.

In June, Maersk Line Ltd. said it had fired the captain and four others from Alliance Fairfax during the episode. The captain, chief engineer and third assistant engineer were fired for violating the company’s policy around drinking on the ship.

The first assistant engineer, who Hicks implicated in the rape, and the second assistant engineer, were fired for failing to cooperate with an internal investigation, Maersk officials said at the time. It’s not clear if either man face other sanctions as a result of the incident.

Hicks’ lawsuit was filed alongside a suit from another female USMMA student known as “Midshipman Y.” In court documents, she alleged discrimination, sexual harassment and groping aboard Alliance Fairfax two years after Hicks was assaulted. Details on the status of that lawsuit were not immediately available.

Alliance Fairfax docks in Kuwait in 2021. Claudia LaMantia/US Army

“We want to be absolutely clear that the events Ms. Hicks describes are unacceptable,” William Woodhour, CEO, Maersk Line, Limited, said in the joint statement. “No matter who and where you are, those who work with us must feel safe and protected in our work environment.”

MLL, based in Norfolk, Va., is a U.S. vessel operator and a subsidiary of A.P. Moller – Maersk, the Danish shipping company.

The joint statement indicates MLL has initiated a full program of training, reporting, and accountability internally and is working externally with all industry stakeholders, including labor unions, the U.S. Maritime Administration, the maritime academies, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Separately, the U.S. Maritime Administration has enacted new standards for reporting and responding to allegations of sexual assault and harassment on ships. Shipping carriers must agree to enact the standards, known as Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture (EMBARC), to take USMMA cadets on board for Sea Year training.

By Casey Conley