Sailors abandoning navy's £3.2bn aircraft carrier amid '˜morale crisis'

Depressed sailors are deserting Britain's newest aircraft carrier in droves amid claims morale has dropped to an '˜all-time low'.
The aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth under construction at Rosyth Dockyard, ScotlandThe aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth under construction at Rosyth Dockyard, Scotland
The aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth under construction at Rosyth Dockyard, Scotland

In the past few weeks, about 21 sailors have resigned from HMS Queen Elizabeth – abandoning the Royal Navy’s new flagship before she begins her sea trials later this year.

The news comes amid an on-going manpower crisis in the Senior Service and delays to the carrier programme.

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Now worried naval top brass have launched an investigation into the resignations to discover its cause and what lessons can be learnt.

A senior member of Queen Elizabeth’s leadership team confirmed there had been a number people quitting the service.

But the officer insisted this would not have an impact on the new warship and her final preparations.

Disgruntled sailors have now spoken out about the conditions they face on the carrier – the largest warship ever built by the navy.

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One insider, who The News is not naming, said: ‘Morale is at an all-time low.

‘People join the navy to “see the world” and that does not happen anymore.

‘Hence the dwindling numbers and continuous line of personnel walking out the gate for the last time to go into the civilian world.

‘On board HMS Queen Elizabeth currently there are personnel submitting their notice weekly.

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‘The ship is tight for numbers as it is. People aren’t being released from the ship to go on resettlement courses prior to leaving the navy because they can’t get anyone on to replace their position on board.

‘People want to change jobs within the navy but are being declined because that would mean them leaving the ship so that hampers people’s careers and subsequently some have submitted their notice to leave the navy because of it. It’s really quite bad if I’m honest.’

Another said: ‘The lads are being forced to work longer hours and weekends. There’s just no rest right now.’

Since April 2013, the total number of Royal Marines and sailors in the navy has plummeted from 31,420 to 29,700 in the last count.

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And the latest figures by the Ministry of Defence show the Senior Service was almost 1,000 people shy of its target of 30,200 regular personnel, with a deficit of 940.

However, a recent national recruitment drive by the navy has shown some success, with overall number swelling by 130 people between October 2016 and April.

But critics have said a move to ‘hollow out’ the nation’s armed forces in 2010 had created a ‘vicious circle’.

In March, retired First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord Alan West urged action and said: ‘Cutting 4,000 people in 2010 was a terrible error and one we are still feeling now.’

Queen Elizabeth has a crew of more than 700 people.

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Leading officers on the ship have since spoken to those quitting to find out why they are leaving and what lessons the navy can learn from them.

A senior officer on the £3.2bn carrier said although people have resigned, it would take a year for them to actually leave the navy.

The source added the voluntary outflow rate on Queen Elizabeth was broadly similar to that of other areas in the navy and that capability ‘had not been affected’.

A navy spokesman said: ‘Morale is high on the ship. We’re all very upbeat and determined to get HMS Queen Elizabeth ready to sail in the summer. We’re working hard in support of our Alliance partners to deliver the most complex and advanced warship ever built for the Royal Navy.

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‘Members of the ship’s company are very excited to be part of HMS Queen Elizabeth and cannot wait to sail her into Portsmouth.’

Queen Elizabeth will begin sea trials in summer and sail to Portsmouth in autumn.