Maersk Officer has License Suspended for Misconduct to Cadet at Sea
The issues of sexual abuse and mistreatment of crew and cadets at sea came before a U.S. Coast Guard Administrative Law Judge and a recent decision offered some more details on the level of misconduct and actions at sea. In a recent decision, the judge found evidence of misconduct and harassment by an officer leading to a year-long suspension, but said it fell short in this case of the higher standards of sexual assault. It is the latest in a series of complaints about inappropriate conduct at sea, rape, and assault of cadets and midshipmen from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
The U.S. Coast Guard recently published the results of a nearly two-year case stemming from a complaint filed against a licensed master serving as a chief mate on a Maersk containership. The allegations dated to 2014 and 2015 during two contracts when the chief mate was accused of multiple counts of sexual assault including abusive, unwanted, and inappropriate touching of both a second mate and a deck cadet as well as molestation, hazing, crude behavior, intimidation, and violation of Maersk’s Anti-Harassment Policy.
The accused, Mark Steven Stinziano, is licensed as a master by the U.S. Coast Guard and between December 2014 and March 2015 and again from November 215 to February 2016 was serving as chief mate aboard the Maersk Idaho. The 62.000 dwt containership (4,568 teu) was operating under the U.S. flag at the time as part of a program with Maersk’s U.S. subsidiary but was later transferred to the flag of Singapore where she continues to operate.
The case touched on a range of issues including time limitations for the complaints, which ranged between three and five years, as well as jurisdiction and the level of severity of the counts based on definitions in the law and issues such as intent. The Coast Guard initially filed five counts again Stinziano in August 2020 and later amended it to a sixth count in April 2021. The Coast Guard was moving to revoke his license.
There were two sets of allegations for largely the same behavior by the chief mate with some directed at the second mate on the vessel and the other actions against a deck cadet who was a student from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on his Sea Year duty.
The second mate accused the chief mate of touching him during a lifeboat drill and again on the bridge of the vessel. He filed a grievance with the Masters, Mates & Pilots union in April 2019 which the U.S. Coast Guard later used to file the charges. The judge ultimately found that the Coast Guard failed to prove those charges in part finding the second mate’s testimony not convincing, a lack of witnesses, and also citing reports of friction between the two individuals. The chief mate had written up the performance of the second mate for failing to control a lifeboat during a drill, poor attitude to an inspector which he said caused violations, and an incident in which the second mate accidentally set off a flare causing the bridge to fill with smoke.
The chief mate’s actions towards the cadets became the center of the case with reports that he said “cadets are not people,” and on multiple occasions made sexual jokes and partook in nonconsensual touching of the deck cadet. The deck cadet testified based on his experience he wanted to drop out of USMMA and that he felt demeaned by the actions of the chief mate.
While the judge found the deck cadet and an engine cadet’s testimony as a witness “credible and persuasive that he did not give permission for the physical contact,” much of the case came to an issue of intent. The deck cadet testified to the court reports that the accused “generally engaged in a lot of sexual, sexually natured jokes,” but when questioned by the court said he “did not consider the respondent to be acting with malice or that he was a rapist.”
The law defined assault with intent to inflict harm, which influenced the decision. The judge wrote in the decision, “While it does not constitute sexual abuse or molestation, this type of conduct is not consistent with good order and discipline and safety at sea and fits with the definition of misconduct...Engaging in hazing conduct of a junior is inconsistent with a substantial position of authority and should not be tolerated.”
The judge also reported that he found the respondent’s “blanket denial of all the allegations,” regarding the treatment of the cadet and making sexually-oriented jokes not credible. The contact with the cadet was found to constitute assault and battery and that the actions were harassment in violation of Maersk’s written policy. Stinziano the court said engaged in teasing or hazing and harassing conduct.
Despite these findings, the judge said the proceedings were remedial in nature, and as such with no evidence of prior misconduct the judge decided the appropriate sanction is a 12-month suspension. The chief mate was suspended for four months with an additional eight months of suspension on probation but could be extended to the full 12-months if additional violations were proven.
In November 2021, the USMMA and Department of Transportation paused the sea year duty after explosive charges of misconduct, sexual abuse, and rape were reported by cadets during their sea year duty. It was the second time in five years that the program has been paused over allegations of sexual misconduct at sea.