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Op-Ed: A Path Forward for Reforming USMMA's SASH Response

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File image courtesy USMMA

Published Nov 29, 2021 9:35 PM by Denise Krepp

In 2011, I asked for a Department of Transportation Inspector General investigation into at-school and Sea Year sexual assaults against US Merchant Marine Academy students. I testified twice about the same assaults before a Congressionally-mandated panel in 2014, so I was saddened to read the Maritime Executive article regarding the recently released National Academy of Public Administration report. Ten years later, USMMA students are still afraid to report crimes. 

I don’t want another decade to go by before the problem is solved. As a former Maritime Administration Chief Counsel, I’m proposing the following solutions:

Maritime Security Program - U.S. flag vessel owners who participate in the Maritime Security Program (MSP) receive a $5.3 million per year per ship stipend from the US government.  One of the requirements to receive this funding is to permit USMMA students to train aboard the MSP ships. I recommend that Maritime Administration should update the MSP contracts to include a provision stating that the shipowner will lose the stipend if sexual assault or sexual harassment occurs aboard the ship. This would send the signal that zero tolerance is more than a fancy slogan.

Ethics and leadership training - Supervisors at the Maritime Administration, USMMA, state maritime universities, and in the maritime industry should receive ethics and leadership training reminding them that they can’t simply be silent bystanders - they have an ethical obligation to report crimes to law enforcement officials. Ignoring crimes and reporting the crimes internally doesn’t stop criminal activity.

Settlements - Last year, the Department of Transportation entered into a $1.4 million settlement agreement involving a USMMA student that was sexually assaulted. Information regarding this settlement should be placed on MARAD’s website for public review.  

Accountability - MARAD, DOT, and USMMA employees have known about the sexual assaults for twelve years. I encourage Secretary Pete Buttigieg to start holding employees accountable.  See recommendation above regarding the $1.4 million settlement.

Follow-up - MARAD tracks sexual assaults but it doesn’t report the prosecution of these crimes.  It’s time for MARAD to start telling the American public if the individuals committing the crimes are going to jail. 

The latest incoming class of midshipmen at the US Merchant Marine Academy were eight or nine years old when DOT, MARAD, and USMMA leaders first became aware of a pattern of sexual assault and sexual harassment. It’s time for the older adults to take action to make the school and the maritime industry safer for everyone.

K. Denise Rucker Krepp is a former chief counsel at the Maritime Administration. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.