HMS Disaster! Royal Navy faces multi-million pound bill to repair aircraft carrier which broke down as it departed shortly after leaving port, despite some officers ‘knowing about a faulty propeller’
The Royal Navy is facing a multi-million pound bill for its second aircraft carrier after betting on its seaworthiness, the Daily Mail can reveal.
Some senior officers knew about HMS Prince of Wales’ faulty propeller before she set sail on her historic voyage last year, but remained silent.
The warship broke down just after leaving Portsmouth harbour. The Ministry of Defence, rather than the manufacturers, will shoulder the estimated £20m recovery and repair costs.
The hugely embarrassing debacle is now the subject of an investigation by the Department of Defense. Investigators want to establish who knew what when and who failed to highlight the risks.
The investigation would also have provided evidence that HMS Prince of Wales was rushed into service, seemingly to serve a political agenda.
Aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales pictured in the quayside of Portsmouth naval base last October
According to sources, problems around the starboard propeller shaft “have been lost in the transfer process from one crew to another.”
This meant that the officers who left for the US last August were ‘blissfully unaware’ of the likelihood of HMS Prince of Wales breaking down.
Divers were sent down to inspect the 33-ton starboard propeller which had failed due to a broken clutch. The Mail understands that the main cause was propeller misalignment during the construction phase of the aircraft carrier.
The propeller was removed before HMS Prince of Wales, escorted by a tugboat, sailed to a dry dock in Rosyth, Scotland for extensive repairs which are still ongoing.
The Royal Navy’s Vice Admiral Steve Moorhouse said after the failure: ‘Our initial assessment has shown that a link connecting the last two sections of the [propeller] axis failed. This is an extremely unusual error.
Royal Navy personnel take part in a ceremony to officially christen the QE Class aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales in September 2017
“We are determined to get HMS Prince of Wales operational again as soon as possible and to protect the nation and our allies.”
The 65,000-tonne carrier will enter service in 2021, the year after her sister ship HMS Queen Elizabeth. Costing more than £6 billion, they have already drained the Royal Navy’s funds to build other warships.
They are the largest and most expensive British warships ever made. Their cockpits are larger than three football fields and they can embark dozens of stealth fighter jets and helicopters. While HMS Queen Elizabeth has proved to be a strategic asset, HMS Prince of Wales has been beset by problems.
The difference in performance raises questions about whether the warships are built to the same standard and whether the Royal Navy can afford the two carriers.
The National Audit Office has found that the Ministry of Defense has been “slow” in developing ships needed to support the carriers, potentially hampering operations until 2028 or later.
Last night ex-Royal Navy Commander Tom Sharpe said: ‘Someone in the trial process has accepted the risk [surrounding the propeller] that this would benefit the running of HMS Prince of Wales.
The 65,000-ton carrier (pictured) will enter service in 2021, the year after her sister ship HMS Queen Elizabeth
‘The Royal Navy must doubly ensure that similar shortcuts are not taken in the many other new-build warships.
Shaft alignment shouldn’t be done badly these days. Someone in the construction process has made a big mistake.’
Defense chiefs signed on for HMS Prince of Wales, despite Royal Navy officers being aware of the propeller’s problems.
This decision exposed Defense to the cost of recovering and repairing the carrier.
A source close to the investigation said: ‘Someone knew about the problems and didn’t spot them or magnify them as we would have liked. Lessons must be learned, as this has turned out to be a very costly mistake.’
Last night the Ministry of Defense said: ‘We remain committed to ensuring that HMS Prince of Wales commences her operational program as planned in autumn 2023.’