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    HomeMilitaryUSS Hershel 'Woody' Williams Avoids Grounding Off Gabon Coast During Multinational Exercise

    USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams Avoids Grounding Off Gabon Coast During Multinational Exercise

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    The USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, an expeditionary sea base integral to the U.S. Navy’s operations in Africa, experienced a grounding incident off the coast of Gabon on May 9, 2024.

    The vessel, assigned to the U.S. 6th Fleet and operating within the U.S. Naval Forces Africa area of operations, ran aground around 1 p.m. GMT shortly after departing from a routine port visit to Libreville, Gabon, according to U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa.

    The ship, referred to in official communications as ESB-4, managed to break free from its unintended anchorage by approximately 5 p.m. GMT the same day, taking advantage of the high tide to extricate itself from the soft grounding.

    The swift resolution of the grounding situation meant that no injuries or major damage were reported—a fortunate outcome given the potential for more serious consequences.

    AIS data revealed that following the grounding, the ESB-4 was operational in the Gabon estuary just south of Libreville.

    The Navy has stated that it will conduct a comprehensive additional inspection of the ship to assess any potential damage that may have occurred during the grounding.

    Concurrently, an investigation into the causes of the incident is underway. Despite the serious nature of such an event, no disciplinary action has been taken as of the last reports.

    At the time of the incident, the USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams was in Gabon for the commencement of Obangame Express 2024, an annual multinational exercise aimed at enhancing maritime domain awareness and law enforcement capabilities, with a focus on exercises like visit, board, search, and seizure.

    This grounding could have raised questions about the ship’s ability to participate in planned activities, including the testing of a surface drone, though no immediate impact on the exercise schedule was indicated.

    Homeported at Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece.

    The USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams is designed for flexibility in mission types, including counter-piracy, maritime security, and humanitarian missions.

    It is the only Navy ship explicitly assigned to the U.S. Africa Command and operates on a blue and gold crew system, enabling continued deployment in the AFRICOM area of responsibility.

    Despite the advanced navigation system on board, which can be manually overridden, and a hybrid crew that includes about 50 civilian mariners and approximately 100 Navy sailors.

    The incident raises questions about the safety and operational protocols of such vessels in challenging maritime environments.

    A pilot had assisted the ship into the port, and it was escorted by two tugboats, yet these measures were not enough to prevent the grounding as it departed.

    Relevant articles:
    USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams Suffers Soft Grounding Off Gabon, USNI, 05/11/2024
    Navy ship runs aground after leaving West African port; no injuries reported, Stars and Stripes, 05/10/2024

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