First Details of Sea Year Policy Changes Released
On Friday, the U.S. Maritime Administration released the first materials from last week’s closed meeting on the handling of sexual assault / sexual harassment (SA/SH) incidents at sea.
MARAD and the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) have suspended Kings Point’s longstanding Sea Year shipboard training program while seeking new ways to reduce shipboard SA/SH and other improper behavior, and the meeting, attended by maritime industry executives and agency officials, centered on discussion of new company-written protocols to address the problem. A consortium of participating vessel operators have created a draft proposal; MARAD said in a statement Friday that it is waiting to release specifics of the plan until after it has completed a review, but in the interim, it has provided an outline from the meeting.
The industry consortium wrote that “the USMMA does not currently have 'vetting criteria' related to SA/SH prevention that companies must meet in order to bring [midshipmen] on board their vessels . . . As a result, there is inadequate assurance that company sponsors have and implement appropriate policies, training and procedures to prevent SA/SH incidents, and to obtain candid reporting in this area. This uncertainty has prompted a suspension of the Sea Year program, a stand-down until such assurance can be provided," the document reads. The group called on participants to resolve the problem quickly, as an "extended, complete suspension would put at risk the continued viability of USMMA."
Under the proposal, participating companies would individually submit written policies on training, prevention and reporting – conforming to group standards – plus evidence of a “mandatory review of policies by shipboard personnel.” Each operator would have a designated shoreside company advocate, with 24/7 availability; each ship would have a designated on-board advocate; and each company would create a midshipmen shore leave policy. All would implement a post-voyage debrief for each midshipman by the company and academy.
The participating firms asked that USMMA streamline the process of approving these new company policies so as to give comments, ask questions or identify deficiencies within two weeks – and to prioritize review for firms which are required to accept Kings Point midshipmen as part of their contracts with government agencies.
A dozen of the largest U.S. vessel operators undersigned the presentation. One carrier provided additional comments, and called on MARAD to "take the lead in developing stanard training materials" for all participants; suggested that USMMA "should develop a standard shore leave policy" for midshipmen, applicable across all participating operators; and said that the success of industry-wide effective SA/SH programs would require MARAD and USMMA "to work with industry in realizing our longer term objectives, as this is a shared responsibility."