Congressional chairs to Buttigieg: Pause USMMA Sea Year, fire Buono

Written by Nick Blenkey
House passes Ocean Shipping Reform ACt

Image: Architect of the Capitol

The chairs of six key congressional committees are demanding action following the allegation of rape aboard a U.S.-flag merchant ship recently made by a female cadet at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y. (see earlier story).

In a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the six note that following the cadet’s disclosures of her experiences during the USMMA’s Sea Year program, “countless other brave individuals have come forward to share their personal stories” of similar experiences. They say the incident “sheds light on the toxic culture not only at USMMA, but within the maritime industry where cadets and mariners are in danger and have no escape from their perpetrators.”

The letter is signed by Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; Sen. Maria Cantwell, Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Adam Smith, Chair of the House Committee on Armed Services and the chairs of three House Subcommittees.

They note that in 2016, the Department of Transportation stood down the USMMA Sea Year program to implement changes to better protect students. “But those changes clearly did not work,” they say, “and we are concerned that the cadets remain in danger.

“Despite the recent allegations, it has come to our attention that DOT is considering sending cadets back to sea on commercial vessels in a matter of weeks with few meaningful changes or safeguards in place. While we understand that improved communication devices would be provided to each student, this course of action on its own falls short and is unacceptable. Since the Department has given no indication that meaningful and necessary steps have been taken to ensure the safety of cadets in the Sea Year program, we believe the USMMA should not proceed with Sea Year this term. Prior to the resumption of Sea Year, we request the USMMA develop a public written action plan that includes detailed steps that will be taken to ensure the safety of cadets at sea.”

The Congress members say they “believe there needs to be a change in the leadership of the USMMA” and that Superintendent Vice Admiral Joachim Buono, “has failed to take seriously the safety of his students and has not demonstrated a commitment to change the toxic culture at the Academy and during Sea Year.” They say he must be removed from his position.

Read the letter:

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