Maersk Line, Limited is being hit with two lawsuits claiming the shipping company failed to protect U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Midshipmen from sexual assault and harrassment, the law firm representing two victims has announced.
One of the victims has become known in the industry as “Midshipman-X” after she anonomously shared her story about how she was raped by her superior on board a Maersk Line, Limited during her Sea Year training in 2019. Her identity is now being revealed for the first time.
The second lawsuit is the process of being refiled due to a procedural issue.
The complaints, filed in New York state court against Maersk Line, Limited, allege that Maersk failed to adequately protect U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen from sexual assault and sexual harassment while working aboard Maersk ships as part of the USMMA’s “Sea Year” program.
Both lawsuits claim the incidents took place aboard the same Maersk Line, Limited ship, identified in the complaints as the M/V Alliance Fairfax.
Maersk Line, Limited is the U.S.-flag arm of Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk that provides ocean transportation services to the U.S. government.
The first complaint was filed on behalf of Hope Hicks, a current USMMA student who shook the maritime industry last year after she shared, in an anonomous blog post, about how she was raped by her superior officer while serving as an engine cadet aboard a Maersk cargo ship, afterwards taking on the moniker “Midshipman-X“. Her identity is now being revealed publicly for the first time.
Hicks’ complaint alleges she was the only woman aboard her assigned Maersk vessel during her Sea Year in 2019 and that, while on board, she was raped by one of the ship’s top-ranking officers, a man more than 40 years her senior. According to the complaint, when Hicks confronted the officer, she was told no one would believe her if she made a report. Hicks says she now suffers from severe and ongoing emotional distress as a result.
The second complaint was filed on behalf of another USMMA student who goes by the moniker “Midshipman-Y,” whose identity has not being kept private. According to the complaint, Midshipman-Y was so severely sexually harassed aboard a Maersk ship during her Sea Year that she slept clutching a knife for protection.
Midshipman-Y’s complaint alleges that she experienced extreme sexual harassment, unwanted touching and discrimination while on board the same Maersk vessel two years later. According to the complaint, Midshipman-Y was severely sexually harassed by a crew member who was known to other Maersk officers and crew members as being violent. Although crew members and officers were allegedly aware of the harassment, no one intervened or reported the misconduct. The complaint further alleges that Midshipman-Y was treated less favorably than male crew members on account of her gender. Driven to desperation, at the first opportunity, Midshipman-Y begged USMMA representatives to get her off the ship prior to the completion of her required sea time. As a result, Midshipman-Y is unsure if she will ever be emotionally capable of completing the USMMA.
According to both complaints, filed by the law firm Sanfor Heisler Sharp, Maersk was aware of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment on its ships. A spokesperson for the law firms says Midshipman Y’s complaint is being refiled due to a procedural issue.
Previously in 2016, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx ordered a “Sea Year Stand Down” suspending the program amid allegations of rampant sexual assaults and harassment of cadets during Sea Year voyages. Once reinstated, Maersk Line, Limited and the two other shipping companies participating in the Sea Year program (Crowley and American Presidents Line) were required to enact and enforce procedures to protect against sexual assault and harassment of USMMA midshipmen aboard their vessels, including a zero tolerance policy.
The complaints assert that Maersk’s conduct violates the Jones Act because plaintiffs’ injuries were directly caused by Maersk’s negligence and failure to provide a seaworthy vessel.
“What happened to Hope and Midshipman-Y was both foreseeable and preventable by Maersk,” said Steven J. Kelly, Partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp and counsel for plaintiffs. “Maersk acknowledged that it owes a special duty of care to USMMA cadets, yet even after the Sea Year program was reinstated in 2017, Maersk failed to implement and enforce adequate policies and procedures to protect these young women.”
The complaint further alleges that Maersk was complacent about its sexual assault and harassment prevention duties even after the 2016 temporary suspension of the Sea Year program. According to the complaint, Maersk’s indifference to its duties was evident when one of Hicks’ Maersk supervisors tasked her with logging onto a computer and completing the required sexual assault and harassment training on behalf of a number of other crew members. Following the publication of Midshipman-X’s story, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg again temporarily suspended the Sea Year program in November 2021, reinstating the program about a month later with the new mandatory standards and policies in place to protect midsnipmen participating in cadet shipping.
“Speaking up against a powerful corporation is intimidating, which is why, up to this point, Hope has declined to reveal her identity, opting instead to go by the moniker Midshipman-X,” said Christine Dunn, Partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp and counsel for plaintiffs. “But, today, Hope is publicly identifying herself in an effort to seek justice for the sexual assault and harassment that she, and others – like Midshipman-Y, endured aboard Maersk vessels.”
Ryan Melogy, a USMMA graduate and founder of Maritime Legal Solutions, which published Midshipman-X’s story, noted that “For years there have been reports of widespread sexual assault and harassment in the maritime industry, yet nothing has changed. Now real change may finally be on the way thanks to the bravery of survivors like Hope and Midshipman-Y. These courageous young women are standing up, speaking out, and saying ‘this has got to stop!’” Maritime Legal Solutions is also co-counsel for plaintiffs.