Allegations of sexual harassment and assault have rocked the maritime industry and U.S. maritime academies in recent years, prompting Congress to include a series of measures in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prevent and respond to allegations, protect victims, and punish those found responsible.
One set of new rules targets the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., in response to an allegation by a female cadet who said she was sexually assaulted by her supervisor during her Sea Year training in 2019, and by claims of widespread sexual assault and harassment at the academy, where many allege a climate of fear has silenced victims. This prompted the school to twice suspend Sea Year and develop new safety rules for ship assignments and at the academy.
Specifically, the legislation requires the Maritime Administration to track and store information on claims and incidents at the school, create a student advisory board at USMMA to identify “health and well-being, diversity and sexual assault and harassment challenges,” and designate an attorney to be a victim advisor and offer legal assistance to any mid- shipman who is the victim of an alleged sex-related offense.
The legislation also states that a mariner convicted of sexual assault will be denied a Coast Guard license or merchant mariner’s document or have the existing document or license suspended and allows the Coast Guard to impose fines on shipping companies that fail to “immediately” report complaints of sexual harassment, or sexual assault.
In addition, it will be required that each berthing area include information on sexual assault policies and that oceangoing vessels with accommodations for more than ten crewmembers install and maintain a video and audio surveillance system.