by John Konrad (gCaptain) It’s been over a year since Midshipman X, Hope Hicks, a student at the US Merchant Marine Academy, made the brave decision to share her story of being raped aboard a Maersk ship, but his alleged attacker has not been arrested and continues to work on the ships. Today, CNN reported the second case of alleged rape of a student aboard a US-flagged ship and they have released the name of Midshipman X2’s alleged rapist, Captain John Merrone.
Sources familiar with the investigation tell gCaptain that midshipman X2 reported last year that he was raped aboard a US-flagged freighter sailing in the Atlantic. According to CNN the United States Coast Guard (USCG) alleges that Captain Merrone drugged two cadets and, while incapacitated, raped one cadet and attempted to sexually assault the other.
Aspirant X – One Year Later
The United States Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) is responsible for investigating rape aboard US ships and they work with the USCG Administrative Law Judges and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to revoke the license and arrest sexual predators, but the process is slow and few suspects are ever penalized. This means that while the slow wheels of justice are turning, accused predators are generally allowed to continue working with young sailors in waters hundreds of miles from police and 911 emergency services.
Sources inside the USCG and Maersk have privately confirmed that marine engineer Edgar Sison was fired by Maersk after Midshipman X’s accusation against him became public, but reports vary on why his license was not revoked and why the DOJ did not make an arrest. Aspirant X’s lawyer, ryan melodysays he continues to sail with other MEBA union-affiliated companies that the DOJ is still investigating, but it’s unclear to gCaptain’s reporters whether the DOJ considers the claims of Aspirant X to be credible.
“These cases are tragic and reflect the experiences of many women at sea,” said Ally Cedeno, a highly respected victims’ rights advocate and founder of women at sea. “Our industry has been waiting for change for a long time. Accountability must be a top priority.
This new case is no different. In a statement released on CNN, the USCG said it opened an investigation into Captain Merrone as soon as it became aware of the allegations. Agents told CNN that two separate investigations have been launched by CGIS, but “they are not being pursued by the Department of Justice and are closed.” The DOJ had no comment, and Merrone’s attorney denied the allegations on his client’s behalf.
What’s different about the new Midshipman X2 case is that there are multiple victims, the students were allegedly drugged, and the accused rapist faced prior allegations.
This case is troubling for another reason as well. Because large freighters sail far from the reach of law enforcement, ship captains like Merrone have extensive authority, including keys to every space (including student cabins), control of medical care and the power to imprison the crew and restrict meals.
“Ship captains have powers not seen anywhere else in modern society,” said an American ship captain. “Even commanders of US Navy warships – who have secure communications with shore, often sail with JAG officers and must adhere to strict SASH policies – do not have the same level of control over life. of an individual sailor.”
Previous rape allegations
According Florida court records, in 2011, a woman testified that Merrone lured her to his apartment by offering to rent him a room. She testified that when she wanted to leave Merrone blocked the exit and soon she “found herself on Merrone’s bed with all her clothes on” where he forcibly raped her. Later, after vomiting, she said Merrone “stopped her from reaching for her cell phone to call for help by grabbing her toe and breaking it. After breaking her toe, she says, Merrone raped her Again. She finally pushed him away and fled the apartment with her things.
Merrone was arrested and sentenced by a jury to two years in prison for forcible confinement and assault, but his conviction was overturned in Court of Appeal.
Captain Merrone is a graduate of SUNY Maritime College and a member of the American Maritime Officers Union.
CNN did not include the name of the company, the date of the incident, or other specific complaint details that might inadvertently identify the alleged victims in their report. gCaptain has discussed the case with Midshipman X2’s ship owners who say they have not received sexual assault allegations from Merrone but are now cooperating fully with investigators.
Merrone quit working for the company in 2021 for “reasons unrelated to an allegation of sexual assault/sexual harassment”, but it’s unclear if he took a job at another company.
US Maritime Service Commander Ann Phillips, who is department – MARADE – execute the United States Merchant Marine Academysaid in a statement to CNN that a culture change is “urgently needed” and that the agency continues to strengthen student protections. The agency highlighted new safety standards that shipping companies must meet to transport academy students during its training program.