USMMA cadet sexual assault case ends with top ship engineer surrendering his license

USMMA cadet sexual assault case ends with top ship engineer surrendering his license
United States Merchant Marine Academy 2022 graduate Hope Hicks felt a measure of justice after the engineer that allegedly assaulted her has given up his license to work on the sea. (Photo Courtesy of Jamie Baum)

Mariner engineer Edgar Sison has surrendered his professional license to work at sea rather than go to trial in the Midshipman-X case, according to the Coast Guard.

“Mr. Sison voluntarily surrendered his credential to the Coast Guard in lieu of an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The Coast Guard subsequently filed a Motion for Withdrawal, which was granted,” the Coast Guard said in an email to Blank Slate Media.

The decision comes a week after the Coast Guard charged him with sexually assaulting a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadet in 2019.

“Sexual misconduct has no place in the maritime industry. Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from fear and harassment,” the Coast Guard said. “The Coast Guard conducted a suspension and revocation investigation into the alleged sexual assault and filed administrative charges against Mr. Sison, which resulted in Mr. Sison voluntarily surrendering his credential in lieu of an administrative hearing. The Coast Guard is committed to preventing sexual misconduct in the maritime industry and responding to allegations in a timely, professional, and consistent manner.”

The allegations stem from an incident in 2019 that started a maritime ‘me too’ movement in which Sison was accused of raping a cadet named Hope Hicks from the USMMA in Kings Point; she is now in the Navy.

Her identity originally was anonymous, and under the alias Midshipman-X, she wrote a blog post on the Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy website about her Sea Year sexual assault onboard the Fairfax Alliance.

Hicks was the only female onboard.

On June 14, 2022, 8 and a half months after she published her anonymous recount and four days before her graduation from the academy, Midshipman-X revealed her identity in a lawsuit filed against Maersk Line, Limited.

Hicks was joined in her lawsuit by a second USMMA student who had also supposedly been sexually harassed and subjected to a pattern of unwanted sexual touching aboard the same Maersk ship.

Maersk Line officials they terminated five crew members after conducting an investigation of the assault. Six other senior maritime officials have either surrendered their license or accepted Coast Guard suspensions in the years following the allegations of sexual assault while at sea, records show.

No one has faced criminal charges.

On Feb. 2, 2022, the Coast Guard Investigative Service made a criminal referral of the Midshipman-X case to the U.S. Department of Justice, through the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.

Officials in Florida, where Sison lives, looked into the case but decided not to press criminal charges against him. In March 2023, the U.S. Coast Guard initiated an action against Sison for breaking the rules by having alcohol on the Alliance Fairfax ship in 2019 without permission.

The Coast Guard later added a charge that Sison sexually assaulted Hicks, they also said that Sison’s actions put the safety of the ship in danger.

In August, a Coast Guard investigating officer filed upgraded administrative charges that sought to forever revoke Sison’s merchant mariner credentials.

The Coast Guard charging documents say that Sison’s “engagement in a sexual act with the junior crew member, while the junior crew member was physically incapable of declining participation in, or communicating unwillingness to engage in, that sexual act was sexual abuse.”

The Coast Guard said they have a commitment to maintaining a workplace free from harassment. They also said in a statement how Sison’s license surrender means they were withdrawing the charges.

Ryan Melogy, Hicks’ attorney, expressed mixed emotions about Sison surrendering his credentials and how the case was handled.

“Like many others, we’re disappointed the U.S. Department of Justice declined to criminally prosecute Sison, and I am personally deeply frustrated at U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg’s mishandling of the case, Melogy said in an email to Blank Slate Media. “There was no legitimate reason for him to take more than a year and a half to make the decision to do nothing.”

Melogy wrote he wishes the absurdness of the situation will bring more attention to the matter.

“I think the whole thing is absurd and hopefully so absurd that it gets the attention of Congress,” he wrote. “On the other hand, we’re happy the Coast Guard brought administrative sexual assault charges against Sison, that he has surrendered his merchant mariner credential, and that he is no longer a danger to women aboard ships.”

He also wrote of Hicks reaction.

“Hope is happy to put this chapter of her life behind her and she feels that she did achieve some measure of justice in the end,” he said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of Middle District of Florida said they would not comment on the case. Efforts to reach Sison’s lawyer, Edward MacColl of Thompson, MacColl & Bass, were unavailing.

Hicks’ blog post titled “I Was a 19-Year-Old Virgin When I Was Raped by a 60+ Year-Old 1st Engineer Aboard a Maersk Ship During Sea Year. I Know Several Other Current USMMA Students Who Were Also Raped During Sea Year” sparked investigations into how women at the academy are treated.

In the post, Hicks said she knows, “that in total there are at least 10 young women currently enrolled at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy who were raped during their Sea Year.”

In her blog post, Hicks also detailed remarks Sison allegedly made to her before and after the incident.

“The 1st Assistant Engineer, a man in his 60s, often made derogatory comments about women and told me early in the trip that ‘you should know your place, and it ain’t out here. A woman’s place is in the home,’” she wrote.

Later, after leaving a Middle Eastern port, Hicks saw liquor brought onboard and subsequently consumed. She described the men’s behavior as “like animals, drinking straight out of the bottles of liquor, doing shot after shot, being extremely annoying.”

Under pressure to consume alcohol, Hicks said she had approximately 8 to 10 shots of hard liquor before blacking out. When she woke up, she was in “total shock.”

“Around 6 or 7 am I woke up in my bed completely naked, and began freaking out, she wrote. “My clothes were all over the floor and they were soaking wet, I had a massive hangover, there was blood on my sheets, and I knew immediately that I had been raped. 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.”

Hicks started to recall fragmented memories from the night prior, including moments spent with her laying in the shower with Sison above her.

Another memory involved Sison allegedly compelling her to kiss him, with the recollection of his breath smelling of cigarette smoke. Then she described Sison forcing his genitals into her mouth. While unable to recollect the assault itself, she wrote, “I don’t remember being raped, but I know it happened, and I know the 1st Engineer did it.”

Hicks opted not to report the incident. She said she believed her account might not be taken seriously and grappled with Sison’s position as one of the top four officers on the ship, aligned with other senior officers who were his friends.

“If it came down to the word of a 19-year-old cadet versus the word of one of his best friends, who was he going to believe?” she wrote.


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