Navy ship ran aground when officer went to dinner, investigation finds

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A Navy cargo ship that ran aground in Bahrain last year experienced the mishap while a top officer briefly stepped away for dinner, a summary of a service investigation revealed.

The dry cargo ship Alan Shepard, a Military Sealift Command vessel, was on its way for repairs ahead of sea trials when it hit ground near the Middle Eastern island country’s Khalifa Bin Salman Port on July 15, 2023, according to the report, which a spokesperson from Naval Forces Central Command shared with Military Times Wednesday.

The investigation, which wrapped up last August, found that within roughly 20 minutes of the ship’s master leaving to eat, a loss of situational awareness and poor procedural compliance led to the grounding.

With a crew composed of civilian mariners licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, the vessel continued its transit from a repair yard to the Bahraini port after the ship’s unnamed master left the bridge for a meal, leaving another unnamed officer at the helm. But just minutes later, in order to avoid hitting a fishing vessel, that junior officer turned the ship into a shoal, grounding it on the soft bottom, the investigation found.

The officer “was not cognizant of the ship’s position in relation to the shoals and shallow water while he was maneuvering the vessel to avoid the contact,” the report noted, adding that the master’s failure to be present on the bridge, as required, whenever the ship is operating in restricted waters also played a role in the incident.

The ship was freed from the sand early the next morning with assistance of Bahraini tugboats and a rising tide.

No personnel sustained injuries, and there was no operational impact, Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, a spokesperson for the U.S. 5th Fleet, previously told Navy Times in a statement.

A diver inspection and American Bureau of Shipping evaluation revealed only minor scratches to the paint on the hull of the ship, and no other damage.

It’s not the first time that a Navy ship experienced such a mishap, and it was not the only one to happen last year. In August, Navy Times reported that the Japan-based guided-missile destroyer Howard suffered a “soft grounding” as it pulled into Bali, Indonesia, for a scheduled port visit.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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