- Associated Press - Thursday, October 13, 2016

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) - The federal agency that operates the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and an alumni association have started separate reviews of allegations of sexual abuse and bullying of midshipmen at the suburban New York-based school.

The reviews follow the temporary suspension of a program that allows cadets to earn credits for internships working on commercial vessels for a year at sea.

Sexual abuse surveys, interviews with midshipmen returning from the Sea Year program, along with feedback from faculty about alleged abuse of cadets at sea and at the Kings Point, New York, campus prompted the decision last June to temporarily remove them from commercial vessels, administrators said.

The USMMA is one of five service academies, but the only one operated by the Department of Transportation. After concerns surfaced that the suspension might delay graduation for some, the DOT began placing cadets on government vessels to earn credits. Still, critics of the stand-down insist that is a weak substitute for the vigorous training cadets get on industry vessels.

The DOT announced last week it has hired an independent company to conduct a 60-day review of “the root causes of the sexual assault and harassment and other inappropriate behaviors that have persisted both on campus and during Sea Year.” Recommendations will then be sent to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx; officials have not said when they might resume placing cadets on commercial vessels.

Separately, the academy’s alumni association says it has created a task force of shipping industry experts to conduct an assessment of the situation. The task force said this week it has hired its own company that specializes in behaviors and culture aboard ships and at academies.

Many of the academy alumni have been critical of the decision to order the stand-down, with several graduates claiming it was done hastily and with little evidence of an actual problem.

Association President James Tobin said Thursday he was not sure whether his group’s experts would be granted access to the campus to interview midshipmen, but expressed confidence that a thorough study could be completed in other ways.

“We are not only concerned about our midshipmen, but we’re also concerned about mariners when they graduate; we want everyone to be safe,” Tobin said. “We feel that companies have that goal as well.”

A DOT spokeswoman declined to comment on the separate review being done by alumni.


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