With New SASH Policies in Place, USMMA Restarts Sea Year

USMMA file image

Published Dec 19, 2021 8:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Maritime Administration has reached an agreement to restart the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's Sea Year program, an iconic part of the USMMA educational experience. Sea Year was paused for a second time in November because of ongoing issues with sexual assault and harassment under way, and MARAD has been working with DOT, USMMA, participating shipowners and other stakeholders on a way forward. 

To address persistent problems with SASH at sea, MARAD has released a set of guidelines and a checklist, entitled Every Mariner Builds A Respectful Culture (EMBARC). The checklist requires the operator to hold regular crewmember trainings; install stateroom door locks; and implement strict reporting standards, including a new multi-operator database of mariners who have been accused of SASH offenses. The centerpiece is a zero-tolerance policy for SASH incidents or retaliation. 

The new standards replace a set of similar, previously-agreed standards implemented by MARAD after the first Sea Year shutdown in 2016

For its part, USMMA will provide extra pre-Sea Year training for cadets; assign at least two cadets to every ship; and give cadets satellite phone equipment to provide them with voice contact with family, friends, USMMA personnel and other support resources. In addition, the academy has implemented an amnesty policy, which ensures that survivors or witnesses who report sexual assault will not be disciplined when alcohol or drugs were involved in the commission of the act. Alcohol was involved in both of the recent onboard rape allegations that sparked the call for reform. 

The six state maritime academies have agreed to follow similar policies. 

“The plan is an initial step, and all parties are committed to continuing to review this program frequently, and to make improvements whenever needed to ensure the safety and success of cadets," said Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley. 

In parallel with MARAD's announcement, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a safety bulletin to shipping companies reminding them of their legal obligation to report sexual offenses to the Coast Guard Investigative Service (46 U.S. Code § 10104). The agency maintains a tip line by phone (202-372-2100) and on its site at https://www.uscg.mil/Units/Coast-Guard-Investigative-Service.

"Sexual assault is a crime. When the assault occurs onboard a U.S. documented vessel, the Coast Guard must be notified," wrote John W. Mauger, RADM, U.S. Coast Guard, Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy. "While the law requires the master or individual in charge of a U.S. documented vessel to make that report, too often sexual assaults go unreported. To overcome this challenge, the Coast Guard encourages all victims and witnesses of sexual assaults onboard U.S. vessels to report directly to the Coast Guard."