Two Cadets Accuse Captain of Sexual Assault

Capt. John Merrone in a booking photo taken in 2011 (Florida Department of Corrections)

Published Oct 7, 2022 10:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

A U.S.-licensed master has been accused of assaulting two cadets during a voyage in the Atlantic. The Coast Guard Investigative Service has looked into the case, but the U.S. Department of Justice will not pursue criminal charges, according to CNN.

Two cadets told the Coast Guard that Capt. John Merrone, a 22-year veteran of the merchant marine and a resident of Florida, had drugged and assaulted them in his stateroom. According to a Coast Guard administrative complaint obtained by CNN, the two cadets were called to the captain's stateroom, and he offered them both a drink. They told the Coast Guard that they became incapacitated, at which point the master allegedly raped one and attempted to assault the other.

The U.S. Coast Guard filed the complaint in August in an action against Merrone's license. A separate criminal probe has been closed without charges. 

Merrone had a similar encounter with law enforcement ten years earlier. In 2011, he was charged with false imprisonment, sexual battery and aggravated battery in connection with an alleged assault in the Florida Keys. The woman involved in the case testified that she had been beaten and raped in Merrone's apartment. A jury convicted Merrone of false imprisonment and two counts of simple battery, but an appeals court reversed the conviction in 2013.

Merrone retained his license and continued to sail as recently as this year.

The case follows the well-publicized "Midshipman X" account of a sexual assault on a Maersk Line Limited ship. The anonymous victim - who later identified herself as Hope Hicks (USMMA '22) - alleged that she had been raped by an engineer on an MLL vessel, and she reported that sexual misconduct and harassment were widespread in her program. The academy and the U.S. Maritime Administration temporarily stood down the Sea Year training program to implement new safety measures.