Near Collision Between Royal Navy Warship and Oil Tanker Due to Officer’s Oversight

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A naval warship narrowly avoided catastrophe when it almost collided with an oil tanker because the officer in charge failed to notice it.

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Lieutenant Euan Playford-Johnston had delegated navigation duties to an inexperienced colleague aboard HMS Penzance so he could focus on other tasks while in a congested shipping lane at night.

The minesweeper came close to crashing into a 472ft, 12,000-ton vessel in the Firth of Clyde after veering into its course, according to a court martial hearing. The oil tanker’s captain spotted the warship and took evasive action to prevent a collision.

Playford-Johnston, 30, was reportedly “exhausted” from a long day and chose to work on other tasks, leaving a less experienced officer to navigate. He later attempted to hide his lapse by not informing the ship’s captain, violating Royal Navy regulations.

The married officer has now been sharply criticized by a judge and received a stern rebuke, lost his seniority, and was fined £3600 after pleading guilty to negligently endangering a ship and two counts of violating standing orders.

The incident occurred at about 9:20 p.m. on April 17 of the previous year. Playford-Johnston, serving as the first officer of the watch, had been on the bridge for approximately eight hours following a day of drills.

The night sail was intended to provide navigational training to the second officer of the watch, a junior officer. Prosecutor Lt Cdr Edward Hannah told the court, “Lt Playford-Johnston was in command of the ship and responsible.

Neither Lt Playford-Johnston, the second officer, nor the other two bridge members spotted the Sten Baltic.” The Sten Baltic’s captain had to slow down and contact HMS Penzance, urging them to accelerate.

It was then that HMS Penzance realized it was moving directly into the path of the Sten Baltic. Playford-Johnston quickly took charge. The ships were within 400 yards of each other at their closest approach.

Lt Cdr Hannah, presenting at Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire, explained that the second officer adjusted HMS Penzance’s course to dodge a tugboat but inadvertently directed it toward the Sten Baltic.

He highlighted that Playford-Johnston not only failed to report the tugboat as required but also failed to report the close call to his captain—both violations.

Lt Cdr Hannah emphasized, “His carelessness endangered the ship.” Lt Cdr James Babington, defending, admitted, “He fully acknowledges that he did not perform his duties to the expected standards.”

In sentencing, Assistant Judge Advocate John Atwill declared, “The potential consequences were unthinkable. Your actions that day nearly led to a grave disaster. It also brought you perilously close to incarceration.”

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