A navy warship nearly met disaster when it almost collided with an oil tanker. The officer in charge didn’t notice the looming ship in time. This incident occurred as Lieutenant Euan Playford-Johnston delegated navigation to an untrained colleague on HMS Penzance so that he could focus on his burgeoning workload during a busy period at night.

The mishap occurred when the minesweeper nearly collided with a 472ft, 12,000-ton ship in the Firth of Clyde after veering into its path. Luckily, the tanker’s captain saw the warship and took swift action to prevent a catastrophic collision.

Lt Playford-Johnston, 30, was “fatigued” after a long day and had decided to direct his attention towards other tasks, leaving the junior officer in charge of navigation. Later on, he chose not to disclose his actions to the ship’s captain, this amounted to a serious violation of the Royal Navy rules.

The married officer is now facing the consequences as a judge severely reprimanded him and imposed a fine £3600. Additionally, he lost his seniority after admitting to negligently put a ship at risk and breaching standing orders twice.

HMS Penzance was based at Faslane.
HMS Penzance was based at Faslane
(Image: UK Ministry of Defence CROWN COPYRIGHT, 2024)

The incident occurred around 9.20pm on April 17 last year. Playford-Johnston was the first officer of the watch and had been present in the bridge for about eight hours at the time, after a day filled with drills. The purpose of the nighttime sailing was to provide the second officer of the watch, a junior officer, with crucial navigation training.

However, neither Lt Playford-Johnston nor the second officer noticed the imminent presence of the Sten Baltic. It was the alert captain of the Sten Baltic who had to reduce its speed and hail HMS Penzance, advising them to accelerate.

This revelation prompted Action from the HMS Penzance, it recognized that it was entered the path of the Sten Baltic. Playford-Johnston then got into gear and took control of the situation. At the point of nearest convergence, the two ships were just 400 yards apart.

This shocking incident was narrated in the Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire. The court was informed that the second officer altered HMS Penzance’s course to bypass a tugboat but inadvertently set it for the path of the Sten Baltic.

Not only did Playford-Johnston, who is now based on HMS Mersey, fail to report the presence of the tugboat as required, but he also kept the close encounter with the Sten Baltic under wraps from his captain. Both these actions were in clear violation of the rules.

“His negligence placed the ship at risk,” said the prosecutor. Lt Cdr James Babington, defending, said: “He fully acknowledges that he did not perform his duties according to the required standards.”

The sentencing judge, Assistant Judge Advocate, John Atwill pointed out the gravity of the situation: “The consequences could have been unthinkable. Your conduct on that day edging the ship towards disaster could have landed you in prison.”