USNS Alan Shepard ran aground in Bahrain after captain left bridge to eat,

My first thought.
The article is extremely short of details. The reported conclusion an over simplification of the errors required to end up aground.
Coincidence. My first ever watch alone. Was leaving Sharjah for Bahrain. A bit more than 4 decades ago. Prior to SCTW 78 coning into effect. I was a cadet, with no certificate higher than EDH and Lifeboat.
The Capt. Left me to it. After asking two questions, I found a bit confusing. The questions were.
He pointed at the wheel and telegraph and asked what’s that and what’s it for. My initial response wasn’t up to standard, I was sure there was some kind of trick.
Nope all he wanted to know was I knew how to work them. which I had to explain.
When he was satisfied. He left with the comment, “Good you know how they work.” “If you need to use them”. “Use them and then call me”.
I stood the 8 to 12 for the next few weeks until we left the Gulf, Transited Suez and the Med.
In addition to the 8 to 12 I went up to the Bridge after my dinner to relieve the 2nd Mate for his.
The Mate was busy doing cargo, so he wasn’t on regular Bridge Watch.

One might wonder today why, I was left on my own. It was perfectly legal back then. In later years I sailed with a few professional 3rds. Who never went for their 2nd Mate. They had a certificate of service having sailed as uncertified 3rd Mate prior to STCW 78 coming into effect.
I got my 2nd Mate so I was ok. Still sailed 3rd mate.

A properly certified and trained OOW of any grade should be perfectly capable of standing a watch on the bridge pilot to pilot. Calling the Master as RQD.

So my question is WTF were they training the new guys. If an alteration of co for a fish boat causes a ship to run aground. Or more WTF were they not training the Junior Officers and Candidates. This wasn’t rocket science. Its situational awareness. Know where you are, where you are going and what is around you. More importantly where you will be.
It’s a set of skill’s which requires practice.

How did the old Capt. know if I knew what I was doing. Prior to this I was on the bridge with him arriving or departing many times. Or stood a watch with the Mate. I kept him up to date on where we were and what was going on around us. The only real change, He wasn’t looking over my shoulder.

Even in this day and age, If I have a deckhand going for a certificate or a cadet. I get them conning the ship. Particularly when we are in close. So they learn how to look out the window. And go round stuff as required. When they come back with a certificate they are ready to go.
If they haven’t had this opportunity, while they were working their way up. They usually are not.


Similar to my training. My first discharge as 3/M was actually written down as Jr. 3/M. I felt inadequate to the job on my first few ships but I was never afraid to call the Captain if I am in doubt.

1 Like

Any chances of getting this investigation report and posting it here???

The inexperienced third mate may believe they have been left alone in the bridge but in many cases the captain will be observing from the window in his office.

The role of luck can’t be discounted either, if the chance of grounding is 1 in a 1000 and the 999 times the error is caught it’s a lesson learned. The 1 in a 1000 incident happens and it’s woulda coulda shoulda time

I’m thinking that a 90 degree turn would have been pretty obvious to anyone looking out the window.


It’s the explosive anchorage just southwest of the outer anchorage’s. Which is south of the termination of the Buoyed channel into Bahrain. I looked at it on the chart today and he couldn’t have had more than a mile box to be driving around in. They were directed by Bahrain port to proceed to Anchorage and await pilot. They chose to MODLOC instead it seems like (basically MSCs common practice of driving around in a defined box rather than anchoring. I sure would have tried to make a port turn.

1 Like

It’s unfortunate that many mariners would blame the third mate here. Of course in hindsight they made the wrong move.

With three deck officers going below to eat the cost of mitigating the risk would have been very low.

Third mates in general require clear, unambiguous instructions.


There does not exist a set of instructions clear and unambiguous enough to prevent nervous people from fucking them up.


Seems the Captain can do whatever they want. I’m not a fan of rules for thee but not for me, nor am I fan of hierarchy. But that’s the way it goes out here…

1 Like

My favorite line in the Master’s Standing Orders:

“If you are in doubt as to whether you are in doubt, then clearly doubt exists and my phone will ring.”

Thought that about covered it.


“If you are even thinking about calling me, the phone should be in your hand.”

1 Like

“Do not call me to be a witness. If you have thought of calling me, you should’ve already called.”


Yes, that’s true. New third mates need a track-line to follow, works in the open ocean, Relatively complex situations, which is the case here, are going to require a more experienced bridge team.

This is from M Exe

Heading out for dinner, the master handed the vessel to the third officer instructing him to “stay the course and keep the ship in the waiting area.”

AKE drafts are in metric as the ship was designed in SK. Word around MSC is that it was the first underway watch for this 3rd mate.
MSC has multiple Day workers, the NAV was likely a watchstander, but Captain and CM should have rotated to cover until open waters if not the full watch. If the NAV was a dayworker he would likely be the one to stay. Other option is have the food delivered to the bridge. We commonly do that during UNREP and Maneuvering details.


I was told on my first trip as 3rd Mate by the Master: If at any time you find yourself saying to yourself: “I don’t know, I’m not sure,” you should be calling me. The Chief Mate that trip had a more poetic version: “When in doubt, when facing disaster, save your license, call the Master!”

1 Like