U.S. Navy Expeditionary Sea Base Goes Aground off Gabon

USS Hershel "Woody" Williams departs Tema, Ghana, March 2024 (USN)
USS Hershel "Woody" Williams departs Tema, Ghana, March 2024 (USN)

Published May 13, 2024 10:23 PM by The Maritime Executive


Last week, the expeditionary sea base USS Hershel "Woody" Williams ran aground just off Libreville, Gabon. The ship refloated and freed itself when the tide turned without further incident, a Navy spokesperson told defense news media. 

In all, the ship was aground for about four hours. In a statement, the Navy said that no injuries or major damage were reported. The circumstances of the grounding are under investigation. 

The Williams was in Gabon as part of the regularly recurring Obangame Express exercise, a counter-piracy and maritime security partnership with multiple nations throughout the region. The Gulf of Guinea is an on-and-off hotspot for maritime piracy, and the international assistance mission is part of an effort to prevent any possible resurgence. 

USS Herschel "Woody" Williams is a launchpad for special operations and humanitarian assistance. She began life as a civilian-crewed Military Sealift Command vessel, but was commissioned into Navy service in 2020 because of the nature of her mission set. She is forward-deployed to Souda Bay and is assigned to U.S. Africa Command. 

A sister ship of the Williams, the USS Lewis B. Puller, supported a daring (but tragic) raid on a dhow carrying Iranian weapons in the Gulf of Aden in January. 

Soft groundings like the one that affected the Williams happen regularly in shipping, and naval warships are not exempt. Last July, the dry stores auxiliary USNS Alan Shepard ran aground off Khalifa Bin Salman Port, Bahrain, when the master stepped off the bridge to get dinner. A junior officer had the conn, and maneuvered onto a soft-bottomed shoal about 20 minutes after he was handed the watch. An investigation found that he was attempting to avoid hitting a fishing vessel, and had lost situational awareness. The vessel was undamaged. 

One month later, the destroyer USS Howard went aground while arriving in Bali for a port call. She refloated quickly under her own power, and though there was no substantive damage, the commanding officer was swiftly removed and replaced.