A cargo ship captain accused of raping a female cadet and attempting to assault another woman from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point surrendered his mariner’s license, according to the United States Coast Guard.
John Christopher Merrone, 50, surrendered his credentials to the Coast Guard on Oct. 25, according to officials. Merrone, whose alleged misconduct was outlined in a report filed by the agency weeks before he surrendered his credentials, denied the allegations. He allegedly invited a pair of female cadets into his stateroom and gave them alcoholic drinks spiked with an undisclosed drug or intoxicant without their knowledge in 2019 while aboard the Liberty Glory Vessel, officials said.
He allegedly assaulted one cadet and attempted to molest another and was found to be in violation of Liberty Maritime’s policies, according to officials. The Coast Guard Investigative Service investigated the allegations and said they launched their probe after receiving the allegations last year, according to officials.
“[The Maritime Administration] has strengthened measures that will help us prevent sexual assault and harassment, aggressively prosecute perpetrators and improve support for survivors while supporting urgently needed culture change in the maritime industry to make it safer for all mariners,” Maritime Administrator Ann Phillip said in a statement.
Officials from the administration declined to comment further on the allegations against Merrone, touting the “importance of student privacy.”
Coast Guard officials told Newsday that other alleged victims of Merrone came forward after the complaint was filed earlier this year. Efforts to reach Merrone, a current South Carolina resident according to multiple reports, for comment were unavailing.
Merrone was previously accused of assaulting a woman in Florida more than a decade ago, according to court records. He allegedly held his arms against her neck while he raped her, which led him to be convicted of false imprisonment and two counts of battery, the court records said.
He was sentenced to two years in prison, but an appeals court contended that the trial court did not allow the defense to recall a witness with information beneficial to their case, according to Newsday.
Earlier this year, a pair of female U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen filed complaints against shipping giant Maersk, alleging the company did not sufficiently protect them from sexual assault and harassment while working on its ships.
One of the complaints was filed by Hope Hicks, who previously detailed her accounts of alleged sexual assault under the alias “Midshipmen-X.” Hicks was a 19-year-old virgin at the time of the incident when she was allegedly assaulted by the 60-year-old supervisor, whose name was also not disclosed in her account. The supervisor who raped her, she said, made derogatory comments to her and other women on the ship.
After around 50 days at sea, the ship pulled into a Middle East port where the officers purchased “a lot of alcohol,” according to Hicks. She said she was pressured to drink alcohol by older men and supervisors on the ship.
Hicks said her male sea partner enjoyed drinking and she felt an additional pressure to fit in, despite not having had any alcohol prior to arriving at the academy. As she continued drinking, the cadet said, her sea partner became sick and was taken back to his room.
Hicks said she blacked out shortly after taking roughly another eight to 10 shots of alcohol. The next morning, she woke up naked in her bed with a massive hangover and noticed blood on her sheets.
“I knew immediately that I had been raped,” she said. “I was a virgin and had been saving myself, and as soon as I woke up I could feel that I was very sore and knew exactly what had happened.”
The second complaint was filed by another female cadet, under the alias “Midshipman-Y,” who said she was warned by another female cadet who completed work on the Alliance Fairfax ship that the nearly all-male crew was filled with “creepy” individuals.
The cadet warned Midshipman-Y, who was 18 at the time, that she should not work out in the presence of men, refrain from wearing shorts and engage in any behavior that men could misinterpret as “provocative,” according to the complainant.
Midshipman-Y, in the complaint, said she endured unwanted sexual touching and advances along with sexualized jokes. Her experience was so harmful to her that she said she began to sleep in the bathroom clutching a knife. The bathroom, she said, had the only door that could not be unlocked by other crew members who had master keys.
Midshipman-Y’s direct supervisor, the chief mate, allegedly treated her worse than other male counterparts, constantly belittling her and made her do tasks outside of her job description, according to the complaint.
The chief mate’s alleged discriminatory behavior became too much for her to deal with, she said, and she feared the harassment would continue until she was eventually raped. The midshipman requested an emergency evacuation. Maersk’s designated person ashore allegedly told her “this can’t keep happening,” once she informed them of her evacuation request.
The midshipman said she endured panic attacks and suffered “debilitating emotional distress” as a result of the harassment and ultimately took a leave of absence from the academy in Kings Point. She had not returned to the academy as of Tuesday and said she is unsure if she ever will be able to, according to the complaint.
The allegations from the cadets are not the only ones the academy has faced over the years. In June 2016, former Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx suspended the Sea Year program after allegations of sexual harassment, assault, hazing and bullying.
Four years later, the Department of Justice agreed to a $1.4 million settlement with a former male member of the academy’s soccer team. The man, whose name was not disclosed, alleged he was hazed and sexually assaulted at the academy in 2016.