I started Kings Point Sentry back in July 2016 (with the help of many unnamed people behind the scenes), when inept leadership at both the Academy and at MARAD instituted what they called a Sea Year “stand down,” supposedly to address Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment (“SASH”) issues arising during the Academy’s Sea Year. While not doubting that, like every industry or business,* the maritime industry was also saddled with bad actors that soil the good names of the vast majority of its members, we pointed out that what these bureaucrats were actually doing was covering for their failure to properly address SASH at the Academy—where it was being reported in higher ratios than reports about SASH during Sea Year. We knew this to be the case because we actually read the data (as did others) — and because then Academy Superintendent May-He-Rot-In-Helis admitted it in testimony to Congress.
Bureaucrats gotta bureaucrat and when a problem gets to the point that you can no longer hide it, it’s easier to deflect criticism by blaming someone over whom you have no control (the industry) rather than owning up to the fact that you’ve dithered for five years and accomplished absolutely nothing. Indeed, when in the Spring of 2016 the Academy administration became aware (internally) that the Academy was about to become the first federal academy to be placed on accreditation watch (in danger of losing its accreditation) due in part to a SASH problem at the Academy (not at sea) and almost simultaneously a scathing Inspector General report on the Academy’s failure to implement SASH-avoidance policies was about to be published, it was evident that the Academy was using SASH during sea year as the “look, a squirrel” way of hiding the fact that both the accrediting agency and the Inspector General were pointing the finger squarely at the failure of Academy leadership to deal with SASH on campus. Indeed, when Superintendent May-He-Rot-In-Helis claimed that the accreditation report blamed Sea Year, I rather infamously offered $100,000 to anyone who could prove that the Superintendent was telling the truth. (Hint: He wasn’t and no one ever tried to collect on the bet. Eventually, the Superintendent admitted it wasn’t true.)
Regrettably, the bureaucratic hive known as MARAD adheres to the mantra that one should never let a crisis go to waste. It became evident five years ago that what had begun as a Sea Year stand down to cover up for poor leadership at the Academy (as described here) was now being subverted by bureaucrats in MARAD as an excuse to favor the six state-run maritime schools that were seeking a $1.5 billion taxpayer bailout by getting the federal government to build their training ships. If Kings Pointers could be kept off of their Sea Year on commercial ships and forced instead on to a training ship, it would become easier to justify training ships for the state schools. I wrote about the first installment on that $1.5 billion bailout here. And thus, the Sea Year “stand down” morphed into what we termed the “Sea Year
stand down cancellation.”
Fortunately, after a long battle waged by alumni, parents, anonymous midshipmen, the USMMAAAF, industry, maritime unions and a host of others, new, competent leadership took over at MARAD, Superintendent May-He-Rot-In-Helis was pushed out, a highly-qualified alumnus took over as Superintendent and Sea Year aboard commercial ships was restored. As things quieted down, I put this blog on hiatus. It takes a lot of effort, even with all the behind the scenes help, to publish timely and, most importantly, accurate information and it was a welcome relief to feel that things were returning to normal.
Unfortunately, it’s become necessary to come out of hiatus. In November 2021, following the publication of a truly horrific account of a female midshipman’s rape by a crew member during Sea Year, MARAD (which is essentially leaderless with the failure to replace Maritime Administrator Buzby when the administration changed in Washington, D.C. more than a year ago) announced that Sea Year was being “paused” but only “temporarily.” Anyone who remembers “two weeks to flatten the curve” can predict what a “pause” is in the hands of a bureaucracy. And despite claims that the “pause” was lifted in December, it was not.
The essence of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s Sea Year is service aboard U.S. flagged merchant ships that are actually engaged in maritime commerce. The Academy’s Sea Year is not about sailing in an artificial training ship environment with limited opportunities to engage in the real-world scenarios that Academy midshipmen get when on commercial ships. It is not about sailing on the T/V Kings Pointer. It is not about sitting on ships that are in essentially slightly-less-than-mothballed status that are unable to leave the dock under their own power. Anyone who tells you that Sea Year has been restored — even as of today — doesn’t know what Sea Year is. The bottom line is that midshipmen are not being assigned to commercial ships. And the word is, from several different sources, that MARAD is in the process of creating a plan to permanently have third class midshipmen spend their first Sea Year term (four months) on training ships So it’s not a Sea Year “pause.” It’s a “Sea Year
The importance of this cannot be understated. On the micro scale, It has a direct impact upon the many midshipmen who now face the likelihood that they cannot graduate on time. On a macro scale, it has direct implications to the ability of the U.S. Merchant Marine to be able to support our armed forces in the event of a conflict. (I’ll have more on this in a later post.)
Some other things I want to cover in upcoming posts:
- If Sea Year on commercial ships is unsafe, why is MARAD allowing students at the state maritime schools to sail in the same billets that were filled by Academy midshipmen three months ago?
- MARAD’s claim that it cannot control the assignment of state maritime students to those billets is false.
- Does it make sense to shelter midshipmen during Sea Year from the same environment they will have to encounter when they graduate — especially since they will have far fewer protections upon graduation than they have when sailing as midshipmen?
- MARAD has no expertise in this area and has no enforcement power. Wouldn’t it make far more sense for it to step back and let the U.S. Coast Guard — which has the expertise and law enforcement power (in addition to regulatory power) — to address SASH in an industry-wide fashion?
- In what other industry would the solution to SASH be to say to the victim and potential victims, “Sorry, rather than dealing with the bad actors, we are going to deprive you of the education and opportunity we promised you — but don’t you worry — it’s for your own good.”
- The Academy’s mission is to produce a supply of fully-trained, experienced – and obligated – merchant mariners for U.S. government service in the U.S. Navy’s Strategic Sealift Officer (SSO) Force. These experienced USMMA SSO officers are a pool of mariners who have been to sea on every type of Military Sealift Command and militarily-useful private vessel vessel in the U.S. fleet. The Navy relies upon the ability of Academy graduates to walk out of Vickery Gate and on board a ship because they’ve already had the training necessary. You cannot get that experience from a training ship. This is a national security issue.
I’ve got a lot on my plate in my professional and personal life and that’s why I didn’t reactivate this blog sooner. I can’t promise that I’ll be as prolific a poster as I was five years ago. But I’ve got some people working in the background to help gather information and feed me drafts (to which I will add my customary snark). We are putting the band back together again.
The Academy’s motto is “Acta non Verba” – Deeds not Words. But the pen can be mightier than the sword and it’s time to turn words into deeds again. Until next time . . .
*(Hollywood, CNN, Congress, the White House, the NY State Executive Branch, Microsoft, and Buckingham Palace. to grab some of the lower hanging fruit [pun unavoidable])