CNN’s report highlighted the fear of not being able to graduate, since students are typically required to obtain merchant mariner licenses and are only eligible to do that if they receive a certain number of days at sea — something that could become impossible if a student is removed from a ship after reporting sexual assault or harassment.
The proposed legislation, which is bipartisan and was introduced by members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, would grant the Secretary of Transportation the power to waive this licensing requirement. As a result, students who report sexual assault or harassment during Sea Year — and any other students who don’t feel safe on a ship — would be able to request an exemption and still have the ability to graduate even if they don’t obtain a license.
The Maritime Administration, which oversees the academy, did not comment directly on the bill’s licensing exemption provision, but a spokesperson previously told CNN that “fear of being unable to obtain the requisite sea time has been a barrier to reporting,” and that policies the agency put forth in December stress the school will do whatever it can to help students obtain the required time at sea so they can graduate.
Several members of the school community previously told CNN that one of the most promising reforms the agency announced was video monitoring on ships, but it was included as a consideration and not mandated. The new bill would require ships to implement video and audio surveillance that can be relied on in criminal and safety investigations.
The proposed legislation also applies to the broader maritime industry and is not only targeted at the academy’s Sea Year program.
The Maritime Administration said Tuesday that the agency has been working closely with students at the school, as well as government and industry “stakeholders” to continue to bring about change. “We appreciate Congress’ continuing support for these efforts and any additional resources they can bring to help ensure that all mariners have a safe and welcoming workplace,” the spokesperson said.
“With this legislation, we can help fight assault and harassment in maritime transportation through penalties for perpetrators, new requirements for owners, expanded legal recourse for victims, and a myriad of policies to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the first place,” DeFazio said.
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