NAVAL top brass have defended the Senior Service’s leaking £3.1bn supercarrier, saying the defect is ‘no big deal’.
HMS Queen Elizabeth, the biggest and most powerful warship ever built by the UK, is leaking because of an issue with a shaft seal, a Royal Navy spokesman said.
Reports suggested the defect in the 280m behemoth allows up to 200 litres to pour into the warship every hour – the equivalent of about two bathtubs’ worth.
Although the news broke yesterday the navy was aware of the issue well before commissioning the ship and accepting her into service earlier this month.
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson has insisted the cost to repair the vessel will not be paid by the taxpayer – it will be covered by the warship’s builders, the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA).
Retired Rear Admiral Chris Parry said the issue was minor and resulted from the intense testing of the ship during her sea trials earlier this year.
‘Every ship, to tell you the truth, takes on water. That’s why you have pumps,’ he said. ‘What people have to realise is the whole reason for sea trials is that you race and rally the ship, you stress it right to its extremes, and you’re really looking for faults like this to see what happens.
‘You get this all the time, you’ve got very complicated engineering under the water, it’s operating obviously at sea and every yachtsman will tell you they take in water somewhere, that’s what you’ve got pumps for, that’s why you have dedicated engineers, it really is no big deal I have to tell you.’
It is understood the cost of fixing the leak will not cost millions as reported, but that the bill could reach into the hundreds of thousands.
But Mr Williamson said: ‘This isn’t going to cost the British taxpayer a penny.’
‘This is the reason why we have the sea trials, to make sure that everything is working absolutely perfectly.
‘This is something that work is currently ongoing to deal with, and HMS Queen Elizabeth will be going out early on in the new year to continue her sea trials and making sure she is fully operable in terms of helicopters and the F-35 being able to fly off her deck.
‘HMS Queen Elizabeth is the most magnificent aircraft carrier in the world and, when she is fully operational and she is being deployed right around the world, she is going to make a significant difference as to what we can actually achieve and what we are able to do as a global power.’
Naval expert Pete Sandeman, director of campaign website savetheroyalnavy.org, also rallied to the navy’s defence and said the defect was ‘insignificant’.
He said: ‘To get some perspective on how insignificant this leak is, the 200 litres per hour that is leaking into the 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth is about the same as two bathtubs full of water and can easily be removed by pumps with a vastly greater capacity.’
A spokeswoman for the ACA said plans were under way to repair the leaky shaft seal which would take a couple of days to fix – without any need to take the ship into a dry dock.
‘It is normal practice for a volume of work and defect resolution to continue following vessel acceptance,’ she said. ‘This will be completed prior to the nation’s flagship recommencing her programme at sea in 2018.’
The spokeswoman said the ACA, a group of companies which built the ship, has a six-month period of time in which adjustments and ‘snagging issues’ can be dealt with and rectified.
She said these costs will be covered by the ACA and the industry bodies involved in the ship’s build – which includes BAE Systems and Babcock and Thales.
A Royal Navy spokesman said the shaft seal fault has been identified during the Portsmouth-based warship’s sea trials and that it ‘does not prevent her from sailing again’ or the rest of her sea trials. She will be fixed in her home port.