The cadet known as Midshipman X has taken Maersk Line Ltd to court.
Hope Hicks filed a complaint in New York state court in Nassau County on Tuesday against the US-flag unit of container shipping giant AP Moller-Maersk.
The lawsuit marks the first public acknowledgement of the identity of the soon-to-be US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) graduate, who used the pseudonym Midshipman X to publish an anonymous account of her rape aboard the 6,000-ceu Alliance Fairfax (built 2005).
Hicks was on board the vessel during her Sea Year, the period in which cadets from the academy spend time learning practical skills on US-flagged vessels.
“It took me a long time to even recover mentally from what happened. It changed me,” Hicks told TradeWinds.
“There are still people out here sailing who still believe it’s a man’s club or what happens at sea stays at sea and there are no morals out there either. … People just carry on like it’s normal. It’s the reason why the culture is so messed up.”
The complaint, filed under her real name, makes several of the same allegations as her September 2021 essay published by mariner rights group Maritime Legal Aid and Advocacy.
An engine cadet, she said she was the only woman on board the Maersk Line Ltd-operated ship when she embarked in June 2019.
She was allegedly subject to sexist comments from the first engineer, who is 40 years older and also said he wanted to have a sexual relationship with her.
Hicks alleged there was frequent open and heavy drinking on board the ship, which she did not participate in until the Alliance Fairfax was en route to India and engine officers pressured her into joining them.
Feeling compelled as she was expected to obey her senior officers, she took as many as 10 shots, blacked out and woke up the next morning in bloody bedsheets, bruised and sore.
“The clothes she had been wearing the night before were soaking wet and scattered across the floor of her stateroom,” Hicks’ lawyers alleged in the complaint.
“Hope was a virgin who planned to abstain from sex until marriage. She knew that she had been raped by the first engineer. Hope sat on her bed, terrified, recalling the events of the previous evening.”
She alleged in the complaint that what she does remember from the night was laying on the floor of her bathroom shower with the water running and the first engineer standing over her, lying in bed naked while the first engineer got undressed, and the first engineer putting his penis in her mouth, laying on top of her, kissing her and eventually raping her.
She and her sea partner — another student from the academy — were given the next day off, but the first engineer pressured her into coming into his room.
She said she brought a knife to the encounter and told her sea partner to come and get her if she did not return within 10 minutes.
During the meeting, the first engineer sat next to her put his hand on her thigh and said, “Well, you know that we mariners get lonely out here at sea. Let me know if you ever want to do anything. If you ever want to make something work, I won’t tell anyone.”
He then warned her that no one would believe he raped her, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. It alleges negligence, unseaworthiness and violations of both the federal Civil Rights Act and the New York Human Rights Act.
Hicks’ lawyers argued in the court filing that Maersk Line Ltd had binding policies around sexual assault and drinking on board that were violated and that “common sense” suggests putting young women on ships with heavily drinking men who have master keys made the assault foreseeable.
In a statement, Maersk Line Ltd said it does not comment on pending litigation. But the company said it has zero tolerance for assault, harassment or discrimination on its vessels and that it takes allegations of such seriously.
USMMA declined to comment.