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Second Seafarer Surrenders License in USMMA Sexual Assault Cases

sexual harassment
An electrician who had been on the Ro-Ro voluntarily surrendered his license last week (US Army photo from 2023 offloading in Kuwait)

Published May 11, 2023 3:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

A second seafarer has surrendered his license to the U.S. Coast Guard as part of the high-profile sexual assault cases involving midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy during their Sea Year duty. This case stems from the reports by Midshipman-Y, who along with Midshipman-X, drew national attention and increased awareness of the systemic problems in the work environment at sea.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed to a New York news outlet, Newsday, that an electrician working aboard the Alliance Fairfax, Paul Pagano, had voluntarily surrendered his license last week before hearings began on his case. The U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service had filed a complaint stemming from his time on board the Ro-Ro vessel that operates under charter to Maersk Line primarily transporting equipment for the U.S. Army. 

A USMMA midshipman only identified as Midshipman-Y alleged in 2021 that she had been consistently sexually harassed during her Sea Year duty on the vessel. She said it began shortly after boarding the ship. The cadet, who was 18 years old at the time, came forward with her accusations shortly after another cadet, Midshipman-X released a detailed account of sexual harassment also aboard the same vessel two years prior which she said led up to her being raped by one of the officers aboard the vessel. Both cadets had filed lawsuits that were later settled out of court with Maersk Line.

In the case involving Midshipman-Y, the documents stated, “Every time she encountered him, he would find a reason to be in close proximity to her and he would then make unwanted physical contact.” The cadet reported she was so frightened that she slept locked in a bathroom aboard the ship with a knife for protection. She told the newspaper that she felt she was in an unsafe situation but had been afraid to get off the ship. She ultimately received an emergency evacuation in the middle of her tour.

After returning to the Academy, the cadet who had excelled academically said she began to experience nightmares. She ultimately took leave from the Academy unable to proceed with her education.

The report says that Maersk investigated the case and issued a warning to Pagano. He was also required to attend training and counseling. The US Coast Guard had recently filed its case to begin a disciplinary process.

He is the second seafarer to relinquish their license stemming from recent cases involving USMMA Midshipmen. In October 2022, a 22-year veteran of the merchant marine, Capt. John Merrone, relinquished his license shortly before his scheduled USCG hearing. He stood accused of sexually assaulting two USMMA cadets while aboard the bulker Liberty Glory also during their Sea Year. 

The cases called further attention to the ongoing problem of sexual harassment and assault at sea. The USMMA briefly suspended its Sea Year program again after the recent cases came to light, but a recent investigation said they were part of a broader pattern of harassment both at sea and on the campus of the Academy.  The report said in the past three and a half years there have been 26 cases of sexual assault and harassment of midshipmen, with likely more cases going unreported. In 14 of the 26 cases of sexual assault, the accused aggressors were midshipmen. In eight cases, the suspects were crewmembers.

A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently estimated that three percent of female active-duty personnel reported being sexually assaulted in 2017.  CNN also recently did an investigation reporting that it reviewed more than 40 cases reported to the USCG. In addition, the news outlet said it found more than 25 mariners who held credentials after being convicted of sex crimes including rape, sexual battery, sexual assault, and child molestation. Newsday in its reporting said that the electric in the current case pleaded guilty in 2015 to a charge of battery and served one year of suspended probation.

The USCG recently announced that it was updating its policy to make reporting sexual harassment and assault easier. The USCG says that the new disclosure policy is one of several significant changes the agency is implementing to tackle the problem of sexual harassment.