Merchant Marine Academy cadets sue Maersk, alleging assault at sea

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Before graduating from the US Merchant Marine Academy this Saturday, Hope Hicks said she had unfinished business as a cadet: Suing Maersk, the shipping giant she says failed to protect against rape.

In a lawsuit filed in Nassau County (NY) Supreme Court on Tuesday, Hicks alleged that Maersk Line, Limited, a US subsidiary, endangered her while she was stationed aboard a vessel. society as part of his studies. Hicks’ anonymous online account of the assault last year raised concerns on Capitol Hill, prompting the temporary suspension of ‘Sea Year’ on-the-job training – a move that echoed a 2016 shutdown which aimed to bring about change.

Hicks said she decided to go public with her name now to signal to other cadets that they can take similar action to defend themselves.

Hicks said she was raped by a supervisor at M/V Alliance Fairfax in 2019 when she was 19. Hicks’ attorneys also filed a second lawsuit, on behalf of a woman who said she experienced sexual harassment and unwanted touching as a cadet aboard the same ship two years later. She locked herself in the bathroom and slept on the floor at night while clutching a pocket knife for protection, her lawyers wrote.

“For it to be the same ship I was on, it’s just awful,” Hicks said in an interview this week with The Washington Post. “I feel like I could have done more.”

Maersk officials said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation, but noted that any allegation is taken seriously.

“We have zero tolerance for assault, harassment or any form of discrimination on our ships or in our business,” Maersk Line, Limited said in a statement. The company said staff had been told “we will not tolerate any violation of our policies regarding the fair treatment of all staff”.

After Hicks’ anonymous account was published in September, senior officials from the Department of Transportation and its Maritime Administration, which oversees the academy, offered “unwavering support for the person who shared her story of sexual assault that has occurred during Sea Year.” Officials said they have zero tolerance for sexual assault and sexual harassment and will take prompt preventative action.

Hicks, 22, said serious problems remained for cadets at sea. “This industry is a very difficult world for women, and it shouldn’t be that way,” she said.

It also marks the final stage in Hicks’ evolution after she said she woke up naked and bruised in her cabin after a layover in Aqaba, Jordan, where she said the all-male crew members had purchased large quantities of alcohol.

According to the suit, she confided in a classmate that she was raped after she passed out after a night when she was forced to drink 10 shots of alcohol. She said she was too afraid for her safety to report the attack at the time. If she had asked to be removed from the ship, it would have taken her two weeks living at sea in the room next to her alleged attacker before reaching the next port, according to Hicks and her suit.

“I was scared for my life,” she told the Post. “I just didn’t know how far people would try to cover this up if I were to come forward.”

After completing her assignment and returning to the Merchant Marine Academy to continue her education, Hicks began working in 2021 as a victims’ advocate at the academy’s campus in Kings Point, NY, where she said hearing of other people being sexually assaulted. or harassed.

“Nothing will change if people don’t speak up. If I get chewed up because of that then it’s just something I have to deal with,” Hicks said.

A merchant marine cadet says she was assaulted at sea. Her account has Washington searching for answers.

His lawsuit alleges that Maersk should have known of the risks facing cadets, alleging the company failed to take steps to prevent a foreseeable assault. Maersk, like other shippers, had long hired cadets on their ships as part of the required academic training.

According to the lawsuit, for example, the company had no system on the Fairfax Alliance to track or restrict the use of master keys. Her alleged attacker, who was not named in the suit, and other crew members had access to master keys and “unfettered” access to her room, according to the suit.

Hicks said there was no WiFi to communicate outside the ship and she feared asking the captain to use a satellite phone, leaving her unable to call for help, according to the pursuit.

Writing anonymously as “Midshipman X,” Hicks described the incident in an online post last September. Maersk later said in the tweets he was “deeply troubled by the allegation of assault on our vessel”. The company said it had suspended five officers and crew, would pursue “broader actions” and review workplace policies.

The company declined this week to comment on their employment status or internal findings.

Lawyers attempted to file a second complaint in state court Tuesday on behalf of “Midshipman-Y,” who alleges she “endured sexualized jokes, sexual advances, and unwanted sexual touching” as a cadet aboard the Alliance Fairfax in 2021, when she was 18 years old. a special process for filing under a pseudonym, they said.

The complaint says a crew member repeatedly sneaked up behind the woman on the ship.

“Over the course of approximately 30 days, he touched the Aspirant-Y without his permission, including on the waist and buttocks, on approximately 12 separate occasions,” according to the suit.

At one point, while she was playing a card game called “Egyptian Rat Slap”, the crew member said to her, “You’re the only girl. We should pull your pants down, lay you down on the table and let everyone slap your behind, depending on the costume.

The lawsuit alleges that a satellite texting device issued by the US Merchant Marine Academy, which was supposed to provide an emergency connection to land, did not work most of the time. After finally reaching a port, Midshipman-Y cried while talking to his mother and decided to request that she be removed from the ship. The cadet spoke to a shore representative of Maersk, who, according to the suit, replied, “This can’t go on any longer.”

The woman is on leave from the academy due to stress from sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit.

Christine Dunn, an attorney at Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, who is among those representing Hicks and “Midshipman-Y,” said federal prosecutors are considering whether to prosecute the man who Hicks says the raped.

“The individual has committed a criminal act. There’s no denying that, and that’s between him and the prosecutors,” Dunn said. “But the problem is bigger than an individual perpetrator.”

Both women seek compensatory and punitive damages from Maersk.

Hicks said she held an officer position in the Navy after graduation.

Federal sailors’ academy halts training at sea as it reckoned with sexual assault accounts

The Maritime Administration released new sexual assault and harassment prevention standards on December 15. In a letter the following day, Transportation Department officials told the cadets that maritime year assignments would resume that month under stricter standards. With the new rules, the cadets are satellite phones and shipping donated companies were encouraged to better track and control the use of master keys.

The academy has also implemented a new ‘amnesty’ policy to ensure that survivors and witnesses of assault are not punished for wrongdoing, such as underage drinking, at the time of an assault. .

Maersk reported that it is working to comply with new prevention standards. It is seeking to hire a ‘maritime cultural transformation superintendent’ to spearhead prevention and be responsible for ‘championing positive cultural change that creates dignity and respect’ on its ships, according to an offer. employment.

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