Ship’s captain allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted two naval cadets

The United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York.

The United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York.
photo: Getty Images

After a terrible year for Sexual Violence Survivors at the US Merchant Marine Academy, another harrowing incident has come to light in a previously unreported US Coast Guard complaint.

The complaint, receive by CNN with a request for records of how the captain of a cargo ship sailing across the Atlantic, Captain John Merrone, coaxed two young cadets from the US Merchant Marine Academy into his room. After handing them a drink each, the cadets recalled feeling a little uncomfortable. Now they say their boss laced their drinks with rape drugs and, once unconscious, raped one cadet and “attempted to sexually assault the other”.

The Coast Guard complaint, filed in August, says Merrone’s conduct warrants the revocation of his merchant shipping license to protect future cadets from being attacked by their supervisor at work.

The Coast Guard is typically the agency responsible for investigating reports of shipboard misconduct, ranging from drug abuse to physical or sexual violence. But the records obtained by CNN show that any attempts to revoke a seafarer’s testimonies of sexual misconduct are rarely successful and, when they do, take an excruciatingly long time to process, an already horrifying one experience for the survivors lengthens.

Not surprisingly, Merrone was also accused of rape in 2011 when a woman showed up at a hospital “bruised and beaten.” According to CNN, the court documents, which include testimony from the nurse who examined her, show that he allegedly raped her at his Florida Keys home. Merrone was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for false imprisonment and battery, but his conviction came later overturned. The Coast Guard took no action against Merrone at the time because, they told CNN, they were unaware of the incident until it was resolved.

Merrone has denied the allegations against him in a separate Coast Guard file, meaning the captain still has his merchant marine license for now and has sailed free since the incident was first reported.

Unfortunately, this type of behavior is pervasive in the US Merchant Marine Academy, as well as in the larger maritime industry. Last year a student wrote anonymously blog entry She said she was raped while at sea during her training program and later by her supervisor sued the academy for sexual misconduct. In February, students at the Merchant Marine Academy spoke out against the academy, claiming the institution silences those who say they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. And in June, another student came forward to say she had been harassed and groped by older men on her ship and had slept in a locked bathroom with a knife in her hand for fear of sexual assault. While the Academy faces widespread scrutiny for its botched handling of sexual misconduct cases, the culture of silence continues to thrive as men in uniform continue to abuse their power over their young and often female subordinates. Ship’s captain allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted two naval cadets

Adam Bradshaw

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