A cargo vessel had been sailing in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean when a ship captain called two cadets of the US Merchant Marine Academy to his room and gave each a drink.
Shortly, the students began to feel that something was wrong somewhere. They were unaware that their boss had spiked those drinks, per an unreported complaint filed by a US Coast Guard.
Once they had been incapacitated, the ship captain raped a cadet and attempted a sexual assault on another, per the allegations of the Coast Guard.
The complaint that was reportedly filed in August and obtained by CNN via a records request contends that the conduct of Captain John Merrone was egregious. It was enough for his merchant mariner credential to be revoked so that he would no longer be capable of working at sea.
The Coast Guard is always responsible for investigating reports of misconduct on vessels. They can remove the credential they need to work on ships for several violations — from alcohol and drug use to assaults. But agency records reflect that actions against mariner’s credentials for sexual misconduct have been rare and are extremely slow to work out.
The Coast Guard mentioned in its statement that it had initiated its most recent inspection as soon as it was aware of the cadets’ allegations that had taken place back in 2021. It also added that the criminal investigations arm of the agency also conducted separate probes but that they aren’t being pursued prosecutions by the Department of Justice. The DOJ also chose not to comment. Marrone denied the allegations in a filing with the Coast Guard.
Marrone’s case comes when the US Merchant Marine Academy and the maritime industry face the scrutiny of rampant sexual harassment and abuses that students say they had encountered when they were employed and training at sea.
In 2021, a student who belonged to the academy also published a blog mentioning how she was reportedly raped by her supervisor when she was part of the school’s compulsory Sea Year training program.
Those allegations prompted outrage in the maritime world, leading to new reforms and emboldening alleged victims of sexual assault at sea to come forward and speak up.
One more student spoke up in June, saying that she was harassed repeatedly and groped by older male members of the crew. She was terrified of being assaulted, so she chose to sleep in a locked washroom, clutching a knife for her safety.
Amid the controversy, a CNN inspection in 2022 found that the policies at the federal academy have paved the way for significant barriers to the investigation and reporting of alleged assaults. A culture of fear has also prevented such victims from seeking accountability.
While the complaint of the Coast Guard did not mention the name of any academy that the two alleged victims of Marrone attended, the agency informed CNN they were students with the US Merchant Marine Academy.
Ann Phillips, a Maritime Administrator, said that a culture change is the need of the hour and that the agency has been strengthening its protections for students. The agency pointed to new, stringent safety standards that shipping firms must meet for the academy’s students during the training program.
CNN has not mentioned the firm’s name, the date of the alleged incident, or other details from the complaint, as such information could inadvertently identify the victims.
This is not the first time Marrone has been accused of rape. In 2011, a woman arrived at a hospital bruised and beaten. She said that Merrone was the rapist. He raped her in his apartment in the Florida Keys, per criminal court records that included testimony from the nurse who had examined the lady.
Merrone was arrested and sentenced by a jury to two years of imprisonment for false imprisonment and battery, but the conviction was later overturned in an appeals court. The Coast Guard informed CNN that it was not even aware of the sentence until it had been overturned two years after what happened, so no actions were taken against him.
As the case proceeds, Marrone continues holding the Merchant Mariner credential. This means that he is free to sail — as he has been sailing since the incident occurred.
An executive at the shipping company employed by Merrone reported to CNN that he left in 2021, and the departure was unrelated to the allegations. The official mentioned that the firm also had not received sexual assault allegations or harassment complaints against Merrone while he was an employee. At the same time, the company cooperated with an investigation carried out by the US Coast.
Guard, the firm had never been given details that the matter revolved around an alleged sexual assault. The firm reported that CNN was the first to share details of the alleged misconduct Merrone had committed and that it’d work with the relevant authorities. It added that an internal investigation was started for such “disturbing allegations”.
References: CNN, Pehal News