The steel motor trawler Juniper was launched from the Gateshead yard of T Mitchison Ltd (Yard No 504) on 19th January 1961. She measured 115.4′ x 25.4′ x 11.0′ and her tonnage was 235 gross tons 66 net tons. She was powered by an 8 cylinder 4SA diesel engine by Lister Blackstone Marine Ltd delivering 660 brake horse power. Built for the Ashley Fishing Co Ltd., Aberdeen she was registred in this port A540.
The Juniper left Aberdeen at 11:00am on Sunday 12th February 1967 under the command of her skipper Terence Taylor with a crew of eleven men. One week later she was off the west coast of Shetland where the fishing was proving to be good. At 02:30am on the 19th she was approximately 12 miles NNE of Esha Ness on the Shetland mainland with their latest catch covering the decks. While the crew worked to clean up the fish and get them stored beneath decks skipper Taylor steered the Juniper south intending to pass between the Vee Skerries to the west and Papa Stour to the east. It was raining with poor visibility and the sea was choppy but still nothing to worry her experienced skipper. An hour later they were abeam of Esha Ness and Taylor adjusted his course slightly to the west to ensure they passed a mile off from Fugla Skerry. At this point the weather deteriorated with the wind rising to force 6 or 7. Up till now Taylor had been steering without his Decca navigation switched on but he decided to turn it on to make sure he was on course. Unfortunately the equipment struggled to cope in the poor weather and was not able to function at a high resolution. He used a 24 mile range setting which he later said indicated he was in the correct position and on course to pass Fugla Skerry to the west.
The crew continued to work to clear the deck under the bright lights of the Juniper. This further reduced Taylor’s ability to see ahead of them in the dark. Taylor continued to steam at full speed on his intended course. Around 04:30am they felt a bump and almost immediately the trawler ran aground. They tried to call Wick Radio to raise the alarm but could not get through. Taylor then issued a Mayday call which was picked up by another trawler who transmitted it to Wick. The Juniper was aground lying parallel to the cliffs but not in immediate danger. The crew donned their lifejackets, launched the lifeboats but secured them to the side of the ship ready for immediate use if the situation deteriorated. Later the Aith lifeboat arrived on the scene, called out by Wick Radio. The lifeboat successfully evacuated the crew. The Juniper became a total loss.
The subsequent court of enquiry found Taylor totally responsible for the loss of the ship. The course steered was too risky given the weather conditions and the fault in the navigation equipment should have encouraged him to take a more conservative course. His only accurate view of his position was when he was off Esha Ness and he made no further allowances for the deteriorating weather. His certificate was suspended for two years.
Service by Aith Lifeboat (extract – The Lifeboat Magazine)
A Silver Medal was awarded to The Aith lifeboat coxswain John R. Nicolson by HRH Princess Marina, and the Thanks of the Institution inscribed on vellum awarded to the seven members of the crew of the John and Frances MacFarlane for their skill, courage and determination in rescuing the twelve crew members of the Aberdeen trawlers Juniper which went aground in Lyra Sound between Lyra Skerry and Papa Stour, on the night of 18-19 February 1967. The coxswain also received the Maud Smith Award for the ‘Bravest act of life saving carried out by a member of a lifeboat crew’ for the this service.
The detail of the full service is recounted in the extract from the Lifeboat Magazine reproduced below.