Two more cadets from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy have come forward with stories of sexual assault at sea during their Sea Year Training. Coast Guard investigators found sufficient credibility to the accusations that they referred the case to federal prosecutors, and the case currently remains open.
These are two of the latest allegations to arise after the story of “Midshipman X” brought national attention to the pervasive problem of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the maritime industry. Crew members who once felt they had to keep quiet about their ordeals are now speaking up and finding an audience willing to listen.
Captain with a History of Criminal Allegations
Many of the details of the latest case are being kept confidential to protect the privacy of the women involved. They accused John C. Merrone of administering a date-rape-type drug into their beverages and then engaging and attempting to engage in sexual acts without their consent. According to the complaint filed by the Coast Guard, Merrone had invited the women to his stateroom for a drink to which he had added some substance that “substantially impaired” them. The incidents occurred some years ago during their training.
This was not the first accusation of this type lodged against Merrone. He was charged with sexual battery, aggravated battery, and false imprisonment in 2011 after luring a women to his apartment with an offer to rent an available room. The jury convicted him of battery and false imprisonment and he received a two-year prison sentence, but the decision was later reversed due to legal errors.
Coast Guard Complaint Describes Conduct as Rape
The complaint filed by the Coast Guard asserts that the “[r]espondent’s act of intentionally administering an intoxicant to a subordinate without their knowledge or consent and subsequent engagement in a sexual act without their consent constitutes rape.” A Coast Guard spokesman reported that after they filed the complaint, “other victims came forward.”
The Coast Guard sought revocation of Merrone’s Merchant Mariner Credential. Before the Coast Guard process for revocation could be completed, Merrone voluntarily surrendered his license. The American Maritime Officers union kicked Merrone out and said it was working to ensure that he will not be referred for employment on other vessels.
The company who operated the vessel at the time of the investigation, stated that it was “conducting an internal investigation.” What is not certain at this time is whether Merrone will suffer criminal penalties and whether any relief will be provided to the two victims who initiated the complaint or the others who stepped forward in their wake.
Victims of Illegal Action at Sea Should Seek All Available Remedies
While it is gratifying to see that maritime operators are finally starting to acknowledge the problems caused by sexual assault and sexual harassment at sea, more needs to be done to address the harm caused to victims who suffer physical, mental, and emotional trauma. Attorneys who represent injured mariners are often able to help victims when they step forward, but many of them are afraid to seek assistance or feel that their accusations would not be believed or acted on.
If you or a loved one suffered assault or other wrongdoing on a vessel, the experienced team at Latti & Anderson LLP may be able to help recover compensation or other forms of relief. Contact us today for a confidential free case evaluation.