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U.S. Navy: No More “Bread and Water” Punishment

The USS Shiloh (CG 67), front, and the USS McCampbell (DDG 85) and USS Barry (DDG 52) conduct maneuvers during Talisman Saber 2017.
The USS Shiloh (CG 67), front, and the USS McCampbell (DDG 85) and USS Barry (DDG 52) conduct maneuvers during Talisman Saber 2017.

By The Maritime Executive 2018-12-25 16:41:01

Changes to the U.S. Navy's Uniform Code of Military Justice from January 1 will mean that sailors can no longer be fed bread and water as a non-judicial punishment for minor offenses on board.

The New York Times notes that, in it's current form, the practice is limited to a maximum of three days, but in years gone by, it could have been up to 30 days and was used as a more humane punishment than flogging.

Congress outlawed flogging in 1862, but naval commanders could still call for a sailor to be shackled whilst on bread and water rations. In 1909, the 30 day limit was reduced to seven days, and the option of shackles was banned. By the 1980s, reports The New York Times, a medical examination was required before the sentence could be imposed. Sailors are also allowed three unlimited servings of bread each day.

The punishment, although controversial, has been used in recent times. Under the command of Captain Adam M. Aycock, several sailors on board the USS Shiloh reportedly received the punishment in 2015 and 2016 for offenses that included curfew violations and underage drinking. The ship became known informally as the USS Bread and Water.

The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard call non-judicial punishment captain's mast or admiral's mast - from the days when it could involve being tied to the mast and flogged. The term mast can also refer to when a commanding officer makes themselves available to hear complaints or requests from the crew. Traditionally, on a naval vessel, the captain would stand at the main mast of that vessel when holding mast. The crew, who by custom did not speak to the captain, could do so at these times. In modern times, a meritorious mast refers to the commanding officer praising a member of the crew.