Union Leaders Voice Support for USMMA Sea Year


By Paul Benecki 2016-11-03 13:48:45

Last week, the leaders of the four major U.S. maritime unions and 13 members of Congress issued letters of support for the reinstatement of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's Sea Year training program, which has been partially suspended since June on concerns of sexual assault, harassment and coercion. The Maritime Administration, which oversees the school, said early in September that it believes the issues are systemic and that the suspension will continue indefinitely. 

The union leaders – Donald Marcus, president of the Masters, Mates & Pilots; Marshall Ainley, president of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association; Michael Sacco, President of the Seafarers International Union; and Paul Doell, president of the American Maritime Officers – all expressed the view that while these concerns are important to address, "all our midshipmen [still] need to sail on commercial ships" – the main component of Sea Year's at-sea training placements for USMMA students. 

Marcus and his counterparts agreed with MARAD that "one case of sexual assault, abuse or harassment is one case too many," and that proven offenders deserve the legal and personal consequences of their actions. But the four union presidents also warned of significant problems for students, for USMMA and for the industry as a whole if the blanket suspension of Sea Year were to continue. Among other concerns, they believe that the ban could:

- delay midshipmens' graduation and licensing exams due to sea time shortages
- make recruitment of new students to USMMA more difficult
- hasten the loss of USMMA's post-secondary accreditation
- create a false perception of widespread abuse within the U.S. merchant marine
- lead to the loss of government contracts for U.S. flag ship operators, reducing the number of jobs for American seafarers
- hamper political efforts to support American shipping – like funding the government’s Maritime Security Program and defending the Jones Act cabotage regulations
- make the sector less attractive to new entrants, reducing the number of mariners available for sealift efforts in time of war.

The leaders called for the reinstatement of Sea Year on commercial vessels within 60 days and the inclusion of experienced mariners on the new review panel which will examine SA/SH at USMMA. 

Separately, 13 congressional representatives from around the country sent MARAD an extended list of questions about the suspension, including requests for information about who knew what and when in the run-up to the agency’s decision, the current status of the school's accreditation process, and the reason that state maritime academy cadets are still permitted to sail on the same vessels which USMMA midshipmen are prohibited from boarding.

Further, the representatives asked MARAD and its parent agency to answer whether the suspension was the beginning of a plan to close USMMA, either temporarily or permanently – as many parents and alumni fear.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.