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Shipmaster (feminine term: Shipmistress), occasionally rendered as Ship Master, is a title the Covenant use to describe an individual in command of a starship. The size of the ship is not relevant, whether a frigate or a supercarrier. The Covenant also use the term to describe the commanding officers of human vessels.
Like many titles used by the Covenant, shipmaster is less of a formal rank and more of a role, not unlike that of a human ship captain. While most prominently held by Sangheili, the title of shipmaster can be attained by individuals of different species and ranks. Shipmasters are subject to orders from their fleet's Fleet Master, Supreme Commander, or Imperial Admiral.
The shipmaster of a particular ship gives orders from the command center of their vessel, the equivalent of a UNSC starship's bridge. There they oversee and supervise the running of the ship, and give orders during battle. They command the ship from a platform raised off the deck, surrounded by holographic screens displaying relevant information. Each shipmaster has his own personal insignia which is used to identify them within holographic readouts of a fleet when acknowledging orders from their Fleet Master, for example. Most shipmasters have bodyguards assigned to them, such as a Mgalekgolo pair or a lance of special infantry. Mgalekgolo guards were responsible for protecting the shipmaster at all costs and, if they failed to do so, were expected to enact revenge on the shipmaster's killer.
Sangheili of many different ranks may serve as shipmasters, though the position is often assumed by high-ranking individuals such as Special Operations Commanders, Zealots, or Generals. The lowest-ranked shipmaster known was Major Voro 'Mantakree, who became the shipmaster of his vessel—Incorruptible—after killing the previous shipmaster. 'Mantakree was later promoted to Fleet Master and placed in charge of a task force sent to Onyx. Shipmasters that command ships with a significant amount of firepower garner more respect among subordinates and other shipmasters. Shipmasters often wear gold-colored armor as a symbol of their lofty status, though Special Operations personnel serving as shipmasters are known to retain their silver armor. Some Sangheili shipmasters wear doarmir fur cloaks as a sign of status.
The Sangheili place significant importance on the title of shipmaster, and it often supersedes an individual's rank when they are being addressed. Thus, Sangheili in command of battle group-sized units, or in some cases entire fleets, have been referred to solely as shipmasters. Examples of this practice include Special Operations Commander Rtas 'Vadumee, in command of the Fleet of Retribution, and Jul 'Mdama, addressed as shipmaster by his crew despite holding the rank of Supreme Commander in the revived Covenant. Occasionally, a San'Shyuum High Councilor from the Covenant High Council would witness the glassing of a world. If the Prophet declared that the glassing performance pleased the "gods", the shipmaster's status would be greatly increased within the Covenant military.
Jiralhanae, being the other leading military caste of the Covenant, also can hold the title of shipmaster. Kig-Yar can also serve as shipmasters, although they primarily command ships of the Kig-Yar's own design; the missionary ships employed by the Covenant's Ministry of Tranquility are the most noted example. Despite this, some Kig-Yar shipmasters would be granted control of a Covenant frigate. As Kig-Yar society is matriarchal, their ship commanders are most commonly female and thus hold the title of shipmistress. However, male Kig-Yar shipmasters still exist.
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