Midshipmen: How about requesting an EMBARC waiver?

As most readers know, Sea Year was paused cancelled in November 2021 until MARAD developed a plan to further address the risk to midshipmen of sexual assault/sexual harassment (“SASH”) during Sea Year. I say “further address” because long-time readers of this blog will recall that during the last Sea Year Stand Down Cancellation, MARAD also developed, and successfully implemented, a plan to accomplish the same thing. That plan is called by some the “SCCT plan” but that informal acronym was actually shorthand for the “Shipboard Climate Compliance Team” that developed the protocol for resumption of Sea Year. 

MARAD apparently decided that the last plan failed because it didn’t have an official acronym. So it decided that the Pause Cancellation would remain in place until it had created a plan with an acronym. As a result, we now have “Every Mariner Builds A Respectful Culture” Standards, or, in bureaucrateese, “EMBARC.”

The EMBARC Standards are what you get when an agency is more concerned about diverting unwanted attention from Congress than about actually addressing SASH.

The EMBARC Standards are what you get when an agency is more concerned about diverting unwanted attention from Congress than about actually addressing SASH. If MARAD truly wanted to address SASH, it would work closely with the USCG to help the Coast Guard do its job. The USCG  has the power to regulate the maritime industry and the enforcement power to address the perpetrators of SASH. MARAD’s power is limited to vainly trying to address SASH in the industry by creating voluntary standards where the only “penalty” for failure to adopt the standards is the non-assignment of U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen to non-complying vessels. MARAD’s effort is the equivalent of trying to push with a rope. But, the EMBARC Standards accomplish their main goal — giving MARAD the ability to say, “See, we are doing something” when a congressional office calls MARAD in response to the latest missive from a lawyer falsely claiming to have an expertise in SASH.

The EMBARC Standards sound nice on paper but will take years to implement and are incredibly limited (because of MARAD’s limited control over the industry) in comparison to what the USCG could accomplish. That’s why, in the three months since MARAD announced the EMBARC Standards to great fanfare (coupled with false claims to Congress that the Sea Year Pause Cancellation was over) we have only a few active ships from one company that have met the EMBARC Standards. (Contrary to what MARAD would have Congress believe, ships that are essentially permanently tied to a dock do not meet the standards for a Sea Year aboard a commercial ship. How can you complete a navigation sea project on a ship that is never underway?!)

When MARAD adopts voluntary standards in the middle of a supply chain crisis, standards that include retrofitting ships with corridor cameras and special locks on doors, you really can’t expect shipping companies to drop everything and decide to take a couple of extra days in port to modify each ship in their fleet. Heck, even when the USCG is rolling out major new (and mandatory) safety standards in response to a tragedy, they usually make an announcement in advance and give the industry years to come into compliance.

MARAD’s solution is to punish midshipmen (and impede defense readiness) until the industry complies. (Reminds me of the T-shirt, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.)  But, dear reader, it is not everyone that must be punished. Nooooo. It is only midshipmen from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy that are precluded from being assigned to militarily-useful, commercial ships for their Sea Year until those ships have embarked EMBARC. (See how clever MARAD was with that acronym?) These are the ships that 18 female midshipman in the Classes of 2022 and 2023 accurately described as “the best training platforms for us.”

There are six state maritime schools that have been sending their students to sea on the very same ships that were previously cleared for Academy midshipmen (and which had adopted the criteria MARAD’s SCCT had established) even though those ships do not meet the EMBARC Standards. So apparently these ships are safe for college students (only a few of whom are committed to service in the U.S. Armed Forces when they graduate) but not safe for U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen (all of whom are military service obligated and prepared to go to war for their country). U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen, along with their counterparts at the other four federal academies, have chosen to serve their country and have already signed on to serving in war and other hostilities after they graduate.  But don’t tell MARAD that — It is preventing (and “protecting”) these midshipmen from serving on the commercial ships that state school college students are serving on.  

So here’s my solution:  Midshipmen, if you want to be assigned to Sea Year on a commercial ship, request an EMBARC Waiver. If these commercial ships are safe enough for the students from the state schools and you, who are willing to sail into harms way in times of war, piracy and hurricanes, think the ships are safe enough for you, ask the Secretary of Transportation for a waiver of the EMBARC Standards for yourself so that you can sail on the same ships the midshipmen in prior classes (and perhaps your own class) were sailing on as late as October 2021. 

To make it easier for you, I elicited the assistance of several lawyers who read this blog to draft a request for an EMBARC waiver that you can submit to the Secretary of Transportation. Click here to review it. Save it to your computer and modify it as you deem appropriate and submit it.  It can’t hurt, and perhaps if the powers-that-be hear directly from the midshipmen that they are supposedly trying to protect that they are doing more harm than good, they might grant it. And if the Secretary of Transportation gets enough of these waiver requests, these lawyers have some other ideas how they might be used to accomplish our goal of getting midshipmen safely back to Sea Year on militarily-useful, commercial, operating, ships.

Update:  1.  Mids, consider including your email address in the letter to enable a faster response; and 2.  Please send a copy of any letter you submit to AndySimpson82@savekingspoint.com.  (I won’t publish them, but it will be helpful to have an idea of what kind of response the Secretary is getting.)


  1. When 25 companies cannot comply with new policies, the problem is not with the companies, it is with the policies.

    Up until November’s cancellation of USMMA sea year, there were over 25 commercial shipping companies operating over 150 militarily-useful cargo ships which were approved by MARAD to train USMMA mids. The new EMBARC policies have had 4 companies comply, and 3 of those operate laid-up reserve ships.

    Sometimes even with the best of intentions, there are unintended consequences. This is clearly the case with EMBARC. Marad needs to place midshipmen back to sea immediately on the previously approved commercial vessels while it works with the companies to achieve new policies which meet the needs of all parties.

    As a female graduate with twenty years at sea as an engineer, I can state from personal experience that the current actions by MARAD will only hurt the careers of women at sea. It is ironic that these actions by Marad have turned the clock back 40 years for women in the industry. And for what measurable end? These actions only serve to deter reporting. The best course of action for MARAD is to place midshipmen back to sea immediately as it works with the industry to offer continuous improvement solutions agreeable to all.

    In these very troubled times, sealift readiness is key. USMMA, through it’s Sea Year training, produces over 80% of the highly trained, competent, experienced Strategic Sealift Officers obligated to answer the call and deliver the 90% of military cargo that moves by sea. These are complicated, highly skilled positions. They require Sea Year to prepare. Any time spent training on vessels other than fully operational working cargo vessels is time lost.

  2. I think this is a great idea. Also I saw a comment on the Facebook post suggesting that the midshipmen copy the waiver request to the congressman/senator who appointed them, which I think is also a good suggestion.
    Bob McDermott ’73

  3. Thanks. Great analysis and suggestion.
    Why does KP have no ability to stimulate Congressional Oversight. Hearings when it seems clear that MARAD is jeopardizing taxpayer investment in KP education

    • One problem is that MARAD is very adept at misleading Congress. Three examples:

      1. MARAD tells Congress the Sea Year Pause Cancellation is over. That is claim based upon assigning midshipmen to reserve ships that rarely leave the dock. As one mids’ mom recently wrote to me, his “Sea Year” is being spent doing inventory over and over again on a ship that infrequently leaves the dock.

      2. MARAD tells the Board of Visitors that the BOV cannot meet because it doesn’t have a charter. Balderdash! The BOV has a congressional mandate. It doesn’t need anything more.

      3. MARAD tells Congress (and all stakeholders) that it cannot stop state schools from assigning their students to ships that haven’t adopted EMBARC. Nonsense. MARAD controls millions of dollars that goes to these schools and anyone who deals with government knows that if a funding agency wants to get something from a recipient of funds, it has the ultimate power of the purse.

    • That might well send the wrong message and make Congress think — completely incorrectly — that the Academy is the problem. (I know that is not what you are suggesting.) MARAD is the problem. Look at the way that it undermines KP and boosts the state schools even though KP is the primary source of service-obligated licensed officers (and at far less cost per service-obligated licensed officer) and even though, from an operational budget perspective, KP is one of MARAD’s most important components. The fact is that most of the MARAD-entrenched snivel servants hate KP. What is needed is an expose of MARAD that documents, among other things, all of its lies to Congress. And then legislation that removes KP from MARAD’s control.

  4. Why does this seem like the Sea Year Cancellation is writing itself as a sequel to the book, “Commodore of Errors”?

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