Maersk suspends five crew members and launches rape investigation over blog post by student

An international shipping company suspended five crew members after a cadet  from the US Merchant Marine Academy revealed she was raped while serving a semester at sea. 

The actions by Maersk followed the anonymous blog post written by the student, now a senior, who said crew members made her drink ‘shot after shot’ of liquor before she passed out and an engineer in his 60s took her virginity on one of the company’s ships in 2019.

‘There was blood on my sheets, and I knew immediately that I had been raped. I was a virgin and had been saving myself, and as soon as I woke up I could feel that I was very sore and knew exactly what had happened,’ she wrote. 

The woman was 19 years old at the time and completing what is known as a ‘Sea Year’ – a mandatory program in which students work on commercial vessels to gain experience. 

The names of the suspended crew members or the alleged rapist were not released. 

The woman wrote in the post, uploaded last month to the Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy website, that sexual harassment against female cadets serving a Sea Year is rampant.

‘There are more than 50 young, strong, amazing women in my class at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy where I am currently in my Senior/1st Class year,’ her post began.

‘I have not spoken to a single one of those women who has told me that she has not been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or degraded at some point during the last 3 years at the Academy or during Sea Year. 

‘Most people, and even the leaders of our school, do not seem to understand how serious this problem is, especially at sea.’

The academy in Kings Point, New York, trains students to become commissioned officers in the armed forces or Merchant Navy.

International shipping company Maersk has suspended five crew members pending the results of an investigation into sexual abuse claims

The woman revealed in painful detail the horror she experienced. After the night of forced drinking, she wrote that the next morning she woke up naked in her bed and realized she had been raped. 

The woman said she could not remember the entire alleged rape due to the alcohol but that she did remember a senior engineer in his 60s being in her room.

She recalled the man, who she said had been sexually harassing her for weeks prior to the incident, getting undressed, standing over her and forcing her to perform a sex act.

The woman wrote in the blog post that she confided in her ‘Sea Partner’ – the male fellow cadet about what had happened and he asked if she wanted to report it.

She wrote that she had told him she was worried no one would believe her, and wrote that she did not trust the captain and was worried about negatively impacting the Sea Year for the male cadet by getting him involved in an investigation.

The woman wrote that several hours later, her alleged rapist called her, asking her to come to his room and saying they needed to talk. 

The woman said she told her Sea Partner where she was going and asked him to come and get her in 10 minutes if she had not returned.

Once in the engineer’s room, the woman said he denied any sexual assault had taken place and explained his version of events in what she took to be a threat against her speaking out.

The woman wrote that the man put his hand on her thigh and propositioned her, telling her after she rejected him and made to leave the room, that no one would believe her if she said anything.

‘Back in my room I decided that the only thing I could do was to tough it out,’ she wrote.

‘No one was going to believe me, and toughing it out was the only option I felt like I had. I was trapped.’

The woman did not report the alleged rape and returned to campus after the end of her Sea Year – having had to work under her alleged rapist for a further 50 days.

Back at school, the woman became a victim’s advocate and learned that at least nine other female students at the academy had been raped during their Sea Year, she wrote in the blog post. 

It was this that prompted her to write the post, which quickly gained media attention and spurred responses from politicians and Maersk, as well as a slew of comments on the original post – including by users who say they are female students and crew who have experienced similar harassment and abuse.

CNN reported the woman’s lawyer Ryan Melogy as saying: ‘She was sickened by the number of young women getting raped at sea.

‘Nothing was being done about the problem. She wants to see real change and real accountability for what happened to her and far too many others.’

Maersk issued a statement on Friday, saying its US subsidiary is working closely with the academy, labor unions and the US government, and that five crew members would remain suspended until the inquiry is complete.                          

‘We are shocked and deeply saddened about what we have read. We take this situation seriously and are disturbed by the allegations made in this anonymous posting which has only recently been brought to our attention,’ CNN reported Bill Woodhour, CEO of Maersk Line, Limited, the company’s US subsidiary, as saying.

The woman wrote in the post, uploaded to the Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy website, that she is currently a senior at the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, New York (pictured)

The woman wrote in the post, uploaded to the Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy website, that she is currently a senior at the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, New York (pictured)

‘We do everything we can to ensure that all of our workplace environments, including vessels, are a safe and welcoming workplace and we’ve launched a top to bottom investigation.’

The U.S. Maritime Administration, which oversees the academy, said it had ‘zero tolerance for sexual assault and sexual harassment’. 

It said the school’s superintendent had informed the Coast Guard Investigative Service of the blog post the day after it was published. 

Maersk Line CEO William Woodhour vowed 'a top to bottom investigation' of the alleged sexual attack against a female cadet.

Maersk Line CEO William Woodhour vowed ‘a top to bottom investigation’ of the alleged sexual attack against a female cadet.

A spokesperson for the administration told CNN that government officials would be reviewing the requirements on commercial vessels to ensure student safety. 

Last week, Congressman Tom Suozzi and US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand demanded an immediate investigation into the blog post.

Despite the furor around the post, this is not the first time the Sea Year program has come under scrutiny.

It was suspended in 2016 amid reports of sexual assault and harassment, but reinstated the following year after new rules were introduced including a zero tolerance policy.

Last year, the government said the 2018-19 academic year had seen a decrease in reports of sexual assaults of academy students.

The period saw nine allegations of sexual assault, two of sexual harassment and one of retaliation.

However, the government acknowledged that barriers remained to women coming forward to report harassment and assault, including ‘fear of reprisal from peers, social stigmatization, and ostracism.’   

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