Hope Hicks in June. “It is important to me that...

Hope Hicks in June. “It is important to me that my case has brought greater awareness of the issue of sexual assault and harassment at sea," she said in a statement Friday. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A former U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadet who alleged that a supervisor plied her with alcohol, waited until she was incapacitated and raped her on a Maersk commercial ship in international waters in 2019 has settled a lawsuit with the Denmark-based shipping giant, attorneys for both sides said Friday.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, and representatives for Hope Hicks and Maersk Line, Limited declined to comment beyond statements issued Friday.

“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. "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."

Hicks, now serving in the Navy, was one of two female cadets at the Kings Point academy who filed lawsuits in Nassau County in June against Maersk, alleging the company failed to protect them from sexual assault and harassment during the school's "Sea Year" program.

The suits described a fraternity house atmosphere aboard Maersk ships in which female cadets were subjected to unwanted touching, forced to perform menial tasks not asked of male midshipmen, and threatened with retaliation if they came forward.

Court papers allege that Maersk was aware of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment on its ships and that its failure to protect the women violated the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 and the New York State Human Rights Act.

Hicks, of Georgia, made headlines last year after disclosing — anonymously at the time — on a maritime whistleblower website that an engineering supervisor 40 years her senior on the Alliance Fairfax vessel pressured her drink alcohol, and after she was unconscious, raped her.

When Hicks, who was 19 at the time and the only woman on board, confronted the supervisor, he told her "no one is ever going to believe you," the complaint said.

"It took me a very long time to recover from what happened and I would say that I'm still not fully recovered," Hicks said in an interview with Newsday in June before her USMMA graduation. "But after a while, I just realized that the problem is bigger than myself."

In a statement, Maersk chief executive William Woodhour said the events described by Hicks are "unacceptable. No matter who and where you are, those who work with us must feel safe and protected in our work environment."

Maersk suspended five crew members and launched its own investigation into the assault, officials said. The company said it also initiated new training, reporting and internal accountability measures to protect cadets.

Prosecutors in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, opened a criminal investigation into Hicks’ allegations, officials said at the time. No arrests have yet been made.

Hicks' disclosure prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to suspend, for the second time, the Sea Year program, in which midshipmen are required to complete more than 300 days of work on commercial vessels in international waters.

The other suit filed last summer was on behalf of a female midshipman who alleged she experienced extreme sexual harassment and unwanted touching from a Maersk electrician while on board the same vessel in 2021. 

The woman, identified as "Midshipman Y," said in the suit she was so frightened of being raped that she slept in a locked bathroom holding a knife. She departed the ship before her tour ended and took a leave of absence from the USMMA.

An attorney for Midshipman Y, who was 18 at the time of the incident, said they're in discussions with Maersk to settle the case.

USMMA, which trains men and women to be midshipmen working on deep sea vessels and in the military, has been the subject of several prior complaints of sexual abuse and harassment. The school is one of five federal service academies and was the first in the nation to admit women.

The DOT, which operates the school, did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2016, reports of sexual misconduct forced the temporary suspension of the Sea Year program. But the program resumed in 2017 after USMMA, Maersk and other shipping companies enacted new policies to protect midshipmen from sexual assault and harassment.

The following year, a former academy soccer player filed a $5 million federal lawsuit against seven then-seniors on the team and three former coaches, claiming he was verbally and physically abused, including by a sexual assault, and that the conduct went unchecked and, in some cases, was encouraged by coaches. The DOT paid the victim a $1.4 million settlement.

Earlier this month, a cargo ship captain, accused by Coast Guard investigators of raping a female USMMA cadet and attempting to assault another after plying both with spiked alcoholic drinks, surrendered his mariner's license, making him ineligible to work at sea.

Last week, the Academy appointed Coast Guard Rear Adm. Joanna Nunan as its first female superintendent.

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