Sack for officer who grounded ship

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The Independent Online
A Royal Navy commander who admitted negligence in allowing his £92m warship to run aground was sacked from his post by a court martial panel yesterday.

Commander Paul Collins - decorated for flying helicopters during the Falklands conflict - allowed an inexperienced colleague to take charge of navigating the frigate HMS Brazen while sailing through notoriously dangerous waters.

The 37-year-old commander, described by an admiral as a key figure in neutralising the Iraqi navy in the Gulf war, appeared at the hearing in Portsmouth with navigation officer Lt Matthew Payne, 25, and Lt Sarah Brothwell. All admitted negligently allowing the ship to be stranded on 12 September last year off southern Chile.

Commander Collins also admitted failing to ensure navigation records were preserved, while Lt Payne pleaded guilty to failing to ensure such records were maintained.

Commander Collins was dismissed from his present job, on the staff of the Flag Officer surface flotilla. Lt Payne was reprimanded, but Lt Brothwell was cleared - the panel declining to accept her plea of guilty "with regards to all the circumstances". She had been on the bridge of HMS Brazen for only eight minutes before the ship ran aground.

The Type-22 frigate was stuck in a "nose up" position and all 256 crew were asked to take part in "co-ordinated jumping" on the stern, the court martial heard. This failed and three days later, on 15 September, the ship was refloated by two tugs.

Lt-Cdr Andrew Jameson, for the prosecution, said that under Royal Navy guidelines two officers were required on the bridge at all times - one in charge of the ship, the other navigating.

"Despite this agreed arrangement, Lt Brothwell was considered of sufficient experience by the commander to conduct her own watch with only occasional help from the navigator, even though she had only had one experience of piloting HMS Brazen," he said.

The collision happened shortly after midnight when the 4,100-tonne ship was doing 14.5 knots, with Lt Brothwell as officer of the watch in overall control of the ship. It suffered damage put at £100,000.

Lt-Cdr Jameson said: "The prosecution allege that the grounding followed the accumulation of errors on the part of the commander, the navigator and the officer on watch. The ship was grounded as a result of an ill- considered navigation plan that was not properly prepared. The ship was proceeding at significant speed in confined and unfamiliar waters at night."

The court martial heard that the navigation chart in use at the time had been erased, and additions made to the map record book after the grounding.

As navigating officer Lt Payne had failed to prepare a proper plan before embarking on a difficult journey.

Lt-Cdr Nick Hawkins, defending Commander Collins, told the court martial that there was nothing sinister in the failure to preserve records.

The commander's first thought was to get the ship off the rocks. "At that time he thought she could get off under her own steam," he said.

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