New US Maritime Administration head Ann Phillips is asking for the help of maritime ministries in fighting sexual assault in the merchant marine.

Speaking at the North American Maritime Ministry Association’s annual conference outside Baltimore last week, she had two calls to action for the assembled organisations: to support mariner mental health; and to work together to prevent bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in the industry.

“Without mariners, there are no ships,” Phillips said, noting the shortfall in US seafarers. “Tackling this challenge requires broad and effective partnerships.

“The life of a mariner is uniquely challenging and demanding.”

She is troubled by studies showing mental health issues on the rise among mariners and said MarAd had begun distributing lists of resources for those struggling with their mental health.

She echoed US secretary of transportation Pete Buttigieg in saying her agency is working to create no safe harbour for sexual misconduct in the US merchant marine.

Phillips, a retired US Navy rear admiral who was confirmed by the Senate for her post in May, took over as MarAd pushed forward with the Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture (Embarc) standards.

The standards were developed to combat issues of sexual assault and harassment at sea by, for example, accounting for master keys, and rules prohibiting crew members and cadets from entering each others’ rooms.

The US Merchant Marine Academy, which MarAd oversees, has twice been rocked by sexual misconduct scandals in the past decade, prompting the new rules.

After the first, in 2016, its on-sea training programme Sea Year was shut down for several months.

The second scandal arose last September, when academy student Hope Hicks, known then anonymously as Midshipman X, published an essay on the Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy site describing being raped by an engineer.

Hicks has since sued Maersk Line Ltd.

The Embarc standards were published that December.

Phillips said 10 US-flag operators have been accepted into the programme and several others have applied. She did not disclose their identities, but hopes all US-flag operators sign up.