by John Konrad (gCaptain) The chairs of six congressional committees have written a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Buttigieg in response to Midshipman X’s alleged rape aboard a Maersk ship. The letter calls for the resignation of Vice Admiral Jack Buono, superintendent of the US Merchant Marine Academy. It also describes the wider shipping industry as a toxic work environment and calls for the immediate suspension of cadet boating nationwide.
The letter was signed by six Democrats: Senator Maria Cantwell and Congressmen DeFazio, Speier, Carbajal, Courtney and Smith.
It is unclear whether this letter is just a suggestion or an order from Congress. It’s also unclear if the letter is just for USMMA cadets or also for cadets from the six state maritime academies around the country who are also facing allegations of harassment by Maritime Legal Aid (MLA). ), the website that published the report of aspirant X.
CC’d on the letter is Lucinda Lessley, Acting Administrator of the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD). In addition to the Midshipman X scandal, MARAD and the Biden administration have recently come under fire for failing to take action to address the worst shipping crisis in decades and for appointing a new chief with no industry experience to succeed Lessley. .
Here is the letter in full:
Dear Mr. Secretary:
October 29, 2021
We are deeply concerned by recent allegations of sexual assault by a female cadet at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) during her 2019 Year of the Sea experience. This brave female cadet has no only shared her story of the terrible circumstances she endured at sea, but also detailed alarming statistics regarding the number of other female cadets in her class who were also harassed and assaulted. In response to the blog post, countless other brave individuals have come forward to share their personal stories while at sea. This incident highlights the toxic culture not only at the USMMA, but within the maritime industry. where cadets and sailors are in danger and have no escape from their perpetrators.
In 2016, the Department of Transportation (Department or DOT) canceled the Sea Year program to implement changes to better protect students. But these changes have clearly not worked, and we fear that cadets will remain at risk.
Despite recent allegations, it has come to our attention that the DOT is considering returning cadets to sea on commercial vessels within weeks with few significant changes or safeguards in place. While we understand that enhanced communication devices would be provided to every student, this action plan in itself is insufficient and unacceptable. Given that the Department has given no indication that meaningful and necessary steps have been taken to ensure the safety of cadets in the Sea Year program, we believe the USMMA should not proceed with Sea Year this term. Prior to the resumption of the Year of the Sea, we are asking the USMMA to develop a public written action plan that includes detailed steps that will be taken to keep cadets safe at sea.
While we understand the importance of timely graduation for USMMA cadets, the safety of those same cadets should be your primary concern. We stand ready to help the Department ensure a comprehensive educational experience and timely graduation.
Additionally, we believe there needs to be a change in the leadership of the USMMA. USMMA Superintendent Vice Admiral Joachim Buono failed to take the safety of his students seriously and failed to demonstrate his commitment to changing the toxic culture at the Academy and during the Year of the Sea Superintendent Buono must be removed from his post.
We expect the department to pass strong policy changes before the Sea Year program can resume. The United States maritime industry and merchant marine are a vital part of our national security and our nation’s economy. Sexual harassment, sexual assault and other offenses are
intolerable, and the department must take immediate and long-term action to end these violations to protect USMMA cadets, both at the Academy and at sea.
You can read the full letter HERE.
While university students are not allowed to save time at sea on commercial ships, their only option is to sail on MARAD’s fleet of training ships. A senior government official said there is talk of the USMMA sharing State University of New York’s new $300 million+ federal training ship. However, this vessel will not be delivered until early 2023, and Maritime Legal Aid is raising serious questions about sexual harassment aboard training ships as well as specific allegations of a cover-up by the Deputy Commander of SUNY Maritime, Capt. Catie Hanft, USN (ret’d), aboard the school. current training ship TS Empire State VI.
“In the approximately 1,000 pages of documents submitted to the MLAA by the US Coast Guard, which date back more than 30 years, there is NO report of a sexual offense complaint that was submitted to the US Coast Guard by the captain of a U.S. Coast Guard maritime academy training ship, or by the master or other person in charge of any vessel owned and operated by a U.S. maritime academy…there seem to be two possibilities that explain the absence of 10,104 US maritime academy reports:
1) In the past 30 years, not a single person working or training aboard a documented USCG training vessel owned and operated by a US Maritime Academy has made an allegation of sexual assault occurred on board ship or ashore, or
2) The United States Maritime Academies and the masters of the Maritime Academy Training Vessels willfully violated the Federal requirement to report allegations of onboard sexual assault defined in 46 USC 10104, and they concealed the sexual assaults and hid from law enforcement.
Maritime Legal Aid
Despite the fact that the SUNY Maritime training vessel is owned by MARAD and is under the command of a captain from the US Maritime Service – MARAD’s uniformed arm – Lessley’s office directed gCaptain to send all requests for information on allegations of sexual violence by the MLA aboard the formation. ships to the public schools that run them.
“We are saddened to learn of the experiences that members of our community have shared on the Maritime Legal Aid site,” Rear Admiral Mike Alfultis, Superintendent of SUNY Maritime said in a statement to gCaptain. “We condemn the actions of those who may have caused harm to any member of our collegiate community. Reports of sexual violence and related crimes are thoroughly investigated in accordance with SUNY policies, Federal (Title IX), and New York State law. We remain committed to our commitment to promptly respond to and address reported complaints, as required by Title IX.
If allegations of sexual harassment and rape are reported by students in cadet cantonments and aboard federal training ships, it is unclear what other options U.S. maritime college students will have to obtain the necessary sea time to become officers in the United States Merchant Navy.
Also Read: Rape at Sea – An Open Letter to USMMA Midshipman X