The entrance to the United States Merchant Marine Academy in...

The entrance to the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point Credit: Danielle Silverman

A former electrician on an international shipping vessel gave up his mariner's license last week after facing administrative charges from the Coast Guard that he sexually harassed a teenage U.S. Merchant Marine cadet in 2021, records show.

The female cadet, who was 18 at the time, said she was so frightened of being raped that she slept in a locked bathroom holding a knife, according to court documents.

The Coast Guard Investigative Service filed a complaint last month seeking the revocation of Paul Pagano's merchant mariner credentials, but the electrician voluntarily surrendered his license before the first hearing, according to an agency spokesman.

He becomes the second mariner to lose his license over accusations of sexually harassing a cadet. Cargo ship captain John Merrone surrendered his credentials last year after being accused of raping a USMMA cadet and attempting to assault another after plying them with spiked alcoholic drinks.

The cadet in the most recent case is on leave from the Kings Point academy and living with family in Florida. She asked that her name not be published because of the nature of the allegations.

"I was scared the entire time," the cadet  said Tuesday about her experience on the ship. "And I was scared to get off the ship, which you should never feel when you're in an unsafe situation."

Pagano, who lives in Florida, did not respond to requests for comment. Records show he pleaded guilty in 2015 to a charge of battery and served 1 year of supervised probation.

The cadet, who identified herself in court papers as Midshipman Y, was a standout high school lacrosse player in Georgia who dreamed of following in her father's footsteps and becoming a military fighter pilot.

During her freshman year at USMMA, she excelled academically, finishing in the top quarter of her class. But her career came to a halt in the summer of 2021 when she was assigned to the Alliance Fairfax cargo vessel, operated by Maersk, as part of USMMA’s Sea Year. The program requires cadets to complete more than 300 days of work on commercial vessels in international waters.

Midshipman Y said the harassment began shortly after boarding the ship.

In one incident, Pagano told the cadet during a group card game that "she should take her clothes off and lay on the table while other crew members continue to play cards and slap cards against her buttocks," according to the Coast Guard's case management report.

On another occasion, Pagano attempted to give the cadet a belated birthday "gift" by slapping her bottom with his open palm, the report states. 

"Every time she encountered [Pagano] he would find a reason to be in close proximity to her and he would then make unwanted physical contact with her via poking or rubbing gestures around her lower back, rib cage, and thigh areas," the report states.

She eventually received an emergency evacuation from the ship.

After a Maersk investigation, Pagano was issued a warning and was required to attend training and counseling. 

After returning to USMMA, Midshipman Y said she began experiencing nightmares and panic attacks and was hospitalized due to extreme stress. Her grades suffered and she took leave from the academy.

Last year, Midshipman Y and then-fellow USMMA cadet Hope Hicks filed sexual assault lawsuits against Maersk. Both cases have since been settled. In a statement, Maersk said it applauds the Coast Guard's decision "to hold mariners accountable for engaging in any form of illegal harassment."

Hicks made headlines in 2021 after disclosing — anonymously at the time — that an engineering supervisor 40 years her senior plied her with alcohol, waited until she was incapacitated and raped her on the Alliance Fairfax, the same ship where Midshipman Y said she was harassed two years earlier.

J. Ryan Melogy, the attorney for both women, said: "We don't know how many people have left the academy because of these horrible Sea Year experiences, but it's a lot."

Melogy has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD, on behalf of Midshipman Y, citing the "negligent" operations of the Sea Year program.

A MARAD spokesman declined to comment on Midshipman Y's allegations but said, "Ensuring the safety and well-being of midshipmen is the highest priority of the United States Merchant Marine Academy."

"MARAD remains committed to improving our programs to strengthen safety for cadets and mariners, and will continue to work to advance culture change in the maritime industry," the statement said.

USMMA, which trains men and women to be midshipmen working on deep-sea vessels and in the military, has been the subject of repeated allegations that female cadets have been sexually assaulted, abused and harassed. The school is one of five federal service academies and the first in the nation to admit women.

Midshipman Y said the Sea Year program, which was temporarily suspended after Hicks' disclosure but has since resumed, is irreparably broken.

"The system isn't designed to protect you," she said. "It's not designed to put you on safe ships and to know what to do in unsafe situations."

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