US Merchant Marine Academy’s ‘Sea Year’ Program Halted Following Allegations of Sexual Assault

For individuals looking for a career in engineering or the sea industry, the Department of Transportation’s U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is the gold standard in education, offering year-long courses at sea where students can learn about marine transportation first-hand. Sadly, as solid as the program’s educational strengths are, the Academy itself has other problems, including a long and ongoing history of sexual impropriety. 

Newsday’s Matthew Chayes reported that following a recent allegation of sexual harassment and sexual assault from one of its students, the United States Merchant Marine Academy “has again suspended a program that sends midshipmen to complete work on commercial vessels in international waters.”

According to Chayes, “the announcement, sent in a Tuesday [Nov. 3] letter to midshipmen by officials from the department, which oversees the academy, said officials hope to have a plan to combat the problem sent to Congress soon so that sailing can resume by December.”

The academy’s letter reads, in part: “We recognize that this comes at a time when you have already been tested through nearly two years of profound disruptions and adjustments resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. While we know that this decision will be disappointing to many, we also expect that as leaders who have chosen the path of service, you will support it and each other.”

The end of this year’s “Sea Year” programs comes after a female cadet made allegations of sexual assault on a maritime whistleblower website earlier this year. She stated that an engineering supervisor who was 40 years her senior sexually assaulted her on the commercial ship she was on when it was visiting the Middle East.

In 2016, a similar report of sexual misconduct also led to the temporary suspension of the Sea Year program. After that incident, the program returned the following year with a “zero-tolerance” policy against assault and harassment of all types.

“For years, the academy — which trains personnel to be midshipmen working on deep-sea vessels and in the military — has struggled to combat sexual harassment and assault,” Chayes said. “The academy is one of several federal service academies and was the first in the country to admit women.”

In public statements, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said the latest allegations against the Merchant Marine Academy were “deeply disturbing” and demanded “immediate investigation.”

“Students must be safe,” Suozzi said. “Sea Year must be reinstated on a timely basis. The organizational and reporting structure must be improved. We may finally have come to a point where an ‘all hands on deck’ approach can finally help make this Academy the national treasure it should and must be.”


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