Be on Guard Against Sexual Assault as Sea Year Resumes

Last fall’s report from an anonymous cadet at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy once again raised the ugly specter of sexual assault at sea. Her public account of rape during her Sea Year experience prompted others to come forward and share stories of similar attacks. Sexual assault is more common than most industry insiders want to admit.

While the federal government temporarily suspended the Sea Year program to protect vulnerable cadets isolated while serving at sea, the program is now resuming. A host of new safety measures are supposed to be in place, but it is far from certain that these efforts will be enough to protect those at risk.

New Rules Could Provide Grounds for Legal Action

The U.S. Maritime Administration, an agency of the Department of Transportation, recently announced new safety measures designed to prevent sexual assault and harassment and “foster a safer, more welcoming and inclusive culture.” Commercial carriers will be required to comply with more than 30 new rules in order to carry cadets. The Merchant Marine Academy has also established new policies to protect cadets, such as allowing students access to satellite phones and texting devices while at sea.

If a company fails to provide safeguards in compliance with the new requirements, a cadet who suffers from harassment or assault should have additional grounds for a lawsuit. It is likely that other crew members could also take legal action based on a violation of these safety standards as well.

Safety Measures That Shipping Companies Must Implement

Among the new rules for commercial carriers are provisions requiring:

  • Designation of a person ashore to serve as the primary contact for assault and harassment issues
  • Mandatory training in victim assistance for the primary contact
  • Required regular communication between the primary contact and cadets on board
  • Policies to ensure a prompt and thorough investigation of complaints
  • Training in prevention and intervention
  • Provision of functioning door locks
  • Prohibitions against entering the cabin or a cadet or allowing a cadet to enter another crew member’s cabin
  • Open-door policies

Time will tell whether the new requirements have the intended effect.

Legal Help for Workers Assaulted at Sea

Workers who have suffered sexual assault and harassment at sea often feel that they have no place to turn for help and no hope of changing the prejudicial work environment that is all too common in the industry. However, a maritime lawyer can help make a difference.

When companies allow violations to occur, they should be held accountable. An experienced maritime attorney can help workers pursue legal remedies that provide compensation and other forms of relief for past violations and force the industry to address the problems going forward. To discuss your case with one of the dedicated maritime attorneys at Latti & Anderson LLP, contact us now for a confidential consultation.