Officer asleep while in control of frigate

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A Royal Navy officer fell asleep while in control of a frigate in the Gulf, leaving a trainee navigator in charge of the ship.

The navigating officer, Lieutenant Stephen Walton, 28, faced a court martial at Portsmouth naval base yesterday and pleaded guilty to falling asleep on HMS Lancaster on 22 March while in charge of the ship's safety and navigation as it sailed out of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, after exercises in the Gulf.

The court sentenced Walton, who now serves on HMS Illustrious, to 18 months' loss of seniority. Lieutenant Commander Robert Wood, for the prosecution, said: "It was Walton, as officer of the watch, who had responsibility for the navigation and safety of the ship."

He said: "A torch light was shone into Walton's face but he remained static and did not respond. When he was prodded with the torch he slowly raised his head but did not speak."

In Walton's defence, Lieutenant Commander Alison Towler said he was suffering from lack of sleep after injuring his ribs. She told the court: "He was extremely tired and in need of a break. It was an unremarkable and uneventful night, and the ship was well clear from shipping lanes."

"Walton had no intention of going to sleep. It was a foolish error of judgement," she said.