Shipping giant Maersk has settled a lawsuit filed by a former US Merchant Marine Academy student who says she was raped while working on the company’s ship when she was 19 years old.
The company’s US subsidiary Maersk Line, Limited (MLL) announced the settlement with USMMA graduate Hope Hicks for an undisclosed amount Friday, saying sexual misconduct is “unacceptable” and that the company had initiated “a full program of training, reporting, and accountability internally.”
“No matter who and where you are, those who work with us must feel safe and protected in our work environment,” William Woodhour, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Hicks sparked controversy across the maritime industry last year when she wrote an anonymous blog post describing her alleged assault on a Maersk ship in 2019 during the federal service academy’s mandatory training program known as Sea Year. She wrote how senior officers on the ship had forced her to take repeated shots of liquor and that she woke up the next morning to find blood on her sheets and bruises on her body, immediately realizing that she had been raped.
Her blog post prompted Maersk to suspend and later fire five crew members, but the company said at the time it was “unable to make any findings with respect to the rape allegation” because certain employees refused to cooperate with the investigation.
The Coast Guard previously told CNN that it had investigated the alleged rape as well and referred the case to the Department of Justice, but prosecutors have declined to comment on whether charges would be filed.
Hicks filed her lawsuit against Maersk days before her graduation from USMMA. There was also a separate lawsuit from another USMMA student, known as “Midshipman Y,” who said she was repeatedly harassed and groped by older, male crew members on the very same ship Hicks had worked on two years earlier.
Midshipman Y’s case, which details how she was allegedly so terrified of being sexually assaulted on the ship that she slept in a locked bathroom and clutched a knife for protection, remains ongoing. Her attorney said that they remain “in private discussions in an attempt to resolve that case.”
Both suits alleged that the shipping giant did not have safeguards in place to protect them and that it fostered a culture where sexual assault and harassment weren’t taken seriously.
“It is important to me that my case has brought greater awareness of the issue of sexual assault and harassment at sea,” Hicks said in a statement about the settlement. “The leadership of MLL has expressed the need for change. The changes that MLL has proposed are an important first step, but there is still a lot of work to be done in the maritime industry.”