On Friday, the Department of Transportation announced that it will fully reinstate the United States Merchant Marine Academy’s Sea Year training program aboard commercial vessels.
The department suspended Sea Year last June, alleging a pattern of shipboard sexual assault, sexual harassment and intimidation. The suspension drew emphatic protests from alumni, students and parents, many of whom viewed the suspension as a threat to the academy's continued existence. With leadership from the school's alumni foundation, these stakeholders called for the full reinstatement of Sea Year, and on Friday outgoing secretary of transportation Anthony Foxx acknowledged their concerns.
"Sea Year is of vital importance to each of you," he wrote in a letter to the USMMA community. "I believe that with the strong support of industry and the specific recommendations from [an external study], participation in Sea Year can continue to be an important and unique part of the USMMA curriculum for years to come."
Foxx authorized academy superintendent James Helis to phase in Sea Year on commercial ships on a company by company basis, adding operators back to the program as each receives clearance from the Maritime Administration. The authorization did not lay out a specific timeline.
The decision to fully reinstate Sea Year comes alongside a new plan to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment (SA/SH) on campus, with actions based on the results of a new external study. Like previous reviews of USMMA's management challenges, the plan recommends filling vacancies in key positions and strengthening the academy's leadership. In addition, it calls for new victim-protection policies to reduce retaliation and reprisal, and for a renewed emphasis on USMMA's core values of strength, self-sacrifice, discipline and teamwork.
Whether the plan is implemented under the incoming Trump administration remains to be seen. Trump has selected Elaine Chao, former secretary of labor under George W. Bush, to replace Foxx; critics allege that under Chao, the Department of Labor shifted its emphasis away from advocacy for victims, a charge she strongly denies.