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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg Asks IMO to Focus on Sexual Assault at Sea

January 3, 2022 Cruise Ship Sexual Assault / Rape

During the International Maritime Organization (IMO) General Assembly meeting in London last December, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg raised an important issue: the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment at sea. Speaking on behalf of the United States, Secretary Buttigieg stated that, “[t]he U.S. will do our part to hasten the day that sexual assault and harassment find no safe harbor in the maritime industry,” and he encouraged the IMO to take action to protect offshore workers of all sexes and genders.

Sexual Assault and Harassment at Sea are Far Too Common

As reported by The Maritime Executive, the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment at sea is a key factor contributing to the current gender inequality in maritime professions. According to the publication, “[l]ess than one percent of the global seafaring workforce is female.” The Maritime Executive also quotes Secretary Buttigieg as stating to the IMO:

“Gender equity matters . . . and I want to emphasize one area where the need for action is particularly urgent. For too long, sexual assault and sexual harassment in maritime shipping has been an open secret, affecting the industry around the world. Statements and commitments of zero tolerance must be backed by concrete, deliberate action.”

Currently, this deliberate, concrete action is not happening. The Maritime Executive cites a recent high-profile attack against a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) cadet aboard a Maersk vessel as one example. But, each year there are dozens of reported cases, and it is widely understood that far more cases of maritime sexual assault and sexual harassment go unreported. Our Miami maritime lawyer routinely speaks with individuals who have been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed at sea.

What Can (and Should) Companies Do To Prevent Offshore Sexual Assault and Harassment?

So, what can (and should) companies do to protect their maritime employees? In his statement to the IMO, Secretary Buttigieg identified three priorities for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard:

  • Preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment at sea
  • Making it easier for victims to come forward
  • Ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable

For those who are victims, coming forward is extremely important. Companies cannot legally terminate employees for reporting sexual assault or sexual harassment; and, if they do, they can be held liable for breaking the law. Victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment at sea are also entitled to just compensation for the financial and non-financial costs of their attacks, and companies that fail to prevent these attacks can be held liable for these costs as well.

Speak with a Miami Maritime Lawyer in Confidence

If you are a victim of sexual assault or sexual harassment at sea, you should speak with a Miami maritime lawyer about your legal rights. At Brais Law Firm, we provide free initial consultations, and we do not charge any fees or costs unless we win. To schedule a confidential consultation at your convenience, please call 800-499-0551 or tell us how we can contact you online today.