UK Warship Almost Crashed Into Oil Tanker in Near-Disaster

Due to the oversight of an inexperienced commander, the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Penzance came dangerously close to colliding with a large oil tanker in the Firth of Clyde.

The event took place on April 17, 2018, at around 9:20 p.m., on Scotland’s main maritime route.

Lieutenant Euan Playford-Johnston, the first officer of the watch aboard the minesweeper, was found guilty of carelessness and two counts of disobeying standing orders.

Operating out of Faslane—the site of Britain’s nuclear deterrent—the minesweeper was commanded by Playford-Johnston, who held the position of first officer of the watch. After a day of training, he had been on the bridge for almost eight hours when everything happened. The second officer of the watch, a subordinate officer, was meant to get navigational instruction by sailing at night. But he failed to inform his skipper of the tugboat’s existence or the close call.

Upon seeing HMS Penzance, the captain of the Sten Baltic, he slowed his ship. He then had to hail the boat to signal it to accelerate up. The vessel was not in Lieutenant Playford-Johnston’s command until HMS Penzance realized it was approaching the Sten Baltic.

Notable Navy commanders, such as Lt Cdr Timothy Castrinoyannakis, who commanded HMS Penzance, provided Lt Playford-Johnston with excellent recommendations. According to him, the disaster was not caused by willful carelessness but rather by a chain reaction of mistakes caused by systemic forces that increased the likelihood of collisions.

John Atwill, an assistant judge advocate, handed down the sentence, and the lieutenant barely avoided prison time. The court found the lieutenant ineffective because he did not back or oversee the officer and encouraged him not to report occurrences, which the judge saw as lousy leadership. The danger, he said, was so close to paying off that the repercussions would have been unfathomable.

Currently, Lieutenant Playford-Johnston is stationed aboard HMS Mersey. The HMS Penzance and the HMS Chiddingfold were engaged in a collision in 2021 while moored at a shipyard in Bahrain.