THE Ministry of Defence has set aside more than £1m to cover possible damage to undersea cables being moved to accommodate Britain’s new aircraft carriers.
Before the Queen Elizabeth-class ships can move into their permanent home base of Portsmouth Harbour, the Solent must be dredged.
But in a written ministerial statement, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said this would involve digging up two fibre optic cables owned by BT linking the mainland to the Isle of Wight.
To minimise the impact of moving the cables, BT will ‘surface lay’ them back down - leaving them at risk of damage until they are naturally covered by the English Channel seabed.
Mr Fallon told MPs the Ministry of Defence would pick up the bill for any damage – forecast to happen up to twice in the first five years and maybe once more in the following five years.
He said: ‘Surface-laying the new cable is not BT’s preferred solution as they consider the new cables will be more vulnerable to damage from fishing activity.
‘BT require MoD to carry the liability for any repairs to the cables until they have naturally ‘self-buried’ into the seabed and forecast that the cables could be at risk to damage twice within the first five years and once in the following five.
‘If cable repairs are necessary, each one is estimated to cost £360,000. The maximum contingent liability against the MoD is therefore £1,080,000.
‘The duration of the liability will be 10 years from the date the new BT cables are installed, with this activity scheduled to complete in early December.’
HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to be commissioned in 2017, with HMS Prince of Wales following in 2020.