March 01, 2022

T&I Committee Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Prevent Sexual Assault and Harassment at Sea—Protect Survivors

The Safer Seas Act makes important reforms to protect those in the maritime transportation industry from sexual assault and harassment

Bill Text | Section by Section

Washington, DC – Yesterday, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón(R-PR), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA),  Rep. André Carson (D-IN), Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL), Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. Alan S. Lowenthal (D-CA), Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), and Rep. Anthony G. Brown(D-MD) introduced legislation to fight sexual assault and harassment in the maritime industry.
Specifically, this bill: 

  • Clarifies the Coast Guard’s ability to deny, suspend, or revoke a merchant mariner credential to individuals who have been convicted of sexual harassment or sexual assault;
  • Strengthens transparency surrounding companies’ sexual assault policies and procedures;
  • Protects victims and witnesses who report SASH incidents from discrimination;
  • Directs the Coast Guard to initiate rulemaking to determine safe levels of alcohol consumption by crewmembers aboard vessels;
  • Outlines surveillance requirements, which may be used as evidence in criminal or marine safety investigations;
  • Creates a master key control system to limit the personnel who have access to private spaces;
  • Requires reporting to the Coast Guard by any seafarer, master, or vessel owner with knowledge of sexual harassment or sexual assault;
  • Extends the right to civil action for those pursuing sexual assault and sexual harassment cases;
  • Provides the Secretary of Transportation the ability to waive requirements for U.S. Merchant Marine Academy students who provide reasonable safety concerns when obtaining a merchant mariner license required for graduation; and
  • Adds definitions for sexual assault and harassment.

“We are taking a critical step toward eliminating sexual violence in the maritime industry,” Chair DeFazio said. "With this legislation, we can help fight assault and harassment in maritime transportation through penalties for perpetrators, new requirements for vessel owners, expanded legal recourse for victims, and a myriad of policies to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the first place. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this legislation signed into law and protect hard-working seafarers.”
“As Chairman of the Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, I’ve heard heartbreaking stories from survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse from within our maritime industry – and I know that keeping our seas safe is a mission that will not be complete without eradicating these threats to our seafarers,” said Rep. Carbajal. “The Safer Seas Act will focus not just on preventing future sexual violence, but also on supporting survivors and holding perpetrators accountable.”
In October 2021, Chairs DeFazio and Carbajal released a statement following the allegations of rape and sexual harassment of students at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and aboard training vessels.
In December 2021, Chairs DeFazio and Carbajal, as well as Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the House Committee on Armed Services Adam Smith (D-WA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces Joe Courtney (D-CT) sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Buttigieg outlining their concern about allegations of a toxic culture at the United States Merchant Marine Academy and the broader maritime industry.