USMMA Alumni Begin Sea Year Harassment Review

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By Paul Benecki 2016-11-03 13:48:31

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation (AAF) has hired a consulting firm to study sexual assault and sexual harassment at USMMA, with specific attention to the Academy's program for training aboard merchant vessels.

A seven-member panel selected the consultants – Self Solutions, a firm headed by two Navy veterans – and will write a report based on their results. 

The AAF's independent review joins other recent studies related to the abuse of USMMA midshipmen, including the annual DoD-administered Sexual Assault and Gender Relations survey; the Middle States Commission on Higher Education review of the Academy's preventive measures; a government-commissioned inquiry by the defense consulting group LMI; and a Maritime Administration review of prevention policies aboard vessels that accept midshipmen for training. 

AAF president Captain Jim Tobin ('77) says that the association's newly hired consultants will base their work on publicly available data and on interviews with midshipmen. In addition, they have reached out to USMMA to request cooperation and access, Tobin said. 

Among other tasks, Self Solutions will review the "stand down" of USMMA's key Sea Year program, which places midshipmen on government and commercial vessels for training.

Sea Year has been reinstated on government-owned vessels, but it remains suspended indefinitely on commercial ships. The suspension – ordered by the Academy's parent agencies DOT and MARAD – is controversial within the maritime community, and Captain Tobin makes the AAF's position clear. 

"We've yet to see MARAD release any evidence on why they issued the 'stand down,'" he said. "We don't see what this does to resolve sexual assault and sexual harassment problems. We've found no rational basis for the suspension of Sea Year as a means to prevent this or even to gain an understanding of it. That's why we think it's important to look at other reasons, other ways of getting to the bottom of this so that we can return to our full, traditional Sea Year on commercial ships." 

Captain Tobin notes that while the Association and the rest of the maritime community believe that mariner safety is a top priority, "the vast majority of parents, alumni and industry people we've spoken to say they just don't understand the reason behind the suspension of Sea Year."

In addition to reviewing the effectiveness of the "stand down," the consultants will look at the transparency of decision-making processes at the Academy and its parent agencies. "It's fairly obvious that they haven't been very transparent," Captain Tobin said.

As of press time, MARAD had not provided a response to questions regarding the AAF’s review.

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