Royal Navy: HMS Prince of Wales' crew praised by Defence minister as ship leaves Portsmouth for Nato mission
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The £3.2bn Royal Navy aircraft carrier set sail from HMNB Portsmouth this afternoon (February 12) in the glorious sunshine. Families of serving personnel crowded at The Round Tower to watch her leave. It was originally planned that she would be on the open sea yesterday (February 11), with well-wishers gathering in Old Portsmouth to see her.
After the last minute change of plans, she is ready to take part in Exercise Steadfast Defender - Nato's largest mission since the Cold War. She's replacing HMS Queen Elizabeth, who was originally pencilled in to carrying out the exercise. A mechanical fault to her propeller shaft coupling was discovered during "pre-sailing" checks. Defence secretary Grant Shapps heaped praise on the ship's company and dock workers for preparing the vessel in seven days for departure.
Mr Shapps said: "I would like to congratulate the crew of HMS Prince of Wales for their hard work and dedication in rapidly preparing the ship for departure. The ability to deploy hundreds of crew to make ready one of the world’s most complex aircraft carriers within a week is testament to the skill and ability of the Royal Navy. In an increasingly dangerous world, where it is more important than ever that we stand united with our allies, HMS Prince of Wales will send a powerful message of collective security and deterrence at the head of this multinational strike group."
Captain Will Blackett, Commanding Officer of the 65,000 tonne warship, said: "I am immensely proud of how my ship’s company and their families have responded to this short-notice tasking. We have managed to bring the ship from 30 days’ notice to immediate readiness in just one week. This has been a monumental effort by the whole enterprise, including HMS Queen Elizabeth, Portsmouth Naval Base, and our numerous defence and industry partners. HMS Prince of Wales is now ready to go; we are all looking forward to delivering the mission.”
The ship will lead a carrier strike group of eight ships. This includes four British vessels including HMS Somerset and two Tide-class tankers from the Royal Fleet Auxillary. American, Spanish and Danish forces will support them. The allied fleet will contain a total of 40 vessels drawn from more than two dozen nations. The carrier’s Logistics Officer, Lieutenant Commander Chris Barnett, said it took an "amazing effort" to prepare HMS Prince of Wales' crew. He added: "In less than a week we have brought onboard approximately 70,000 sailors days rations – £400,000 of food – with 450 pallets of stores and 30,000 toilet rolls; not to mention spare parts for F-35 Lightnings, Merlin and Wildcat helicopters, cold weather kit, and medical stores. It has been an amazing effort from all involved."
F-35B Lightning stealth fighter jets from 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron at RAF Marham, submarine hunting and airborne early warning Merlin Mk2 helicopters from RNAS Culdrose, and battlefield Wildcat helicopters of 847 Naval Air Squadron from RNAS Yeovilton, will all be involved in the Nato mission. The aircraft carrier will initially head for the North Sea with her air group to conduct a week's training. This will involve the 780-strong ship's company and nearly 600 men and women embarked with the F-35s and helicopters. The ship will then sail to Norwegian waters.
Commodore James Blackmore, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group - who is in overall charge of the ship, her air power and escorts - said: "I cannot emphasise enough how much hard work has been required over the last week to put us in the position we are now in with an ability to sail HMS Prince of Wales as part of my Carrier Strike Group. My admiration and thanks extend not only to the sailors onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, but also their families, and our contractor partners ashore and the wider team at HMNB Portsmouth that have worked so diligently over the past week. That myself and my battlestaff are now afloat in an aircraft carrier that was preparing for a substantial maintenance package just seven days ago is a remarkable achievement and a tribute to the professionalism, commitment, and good humour of all involved.”
After the initial exercises, the task force will move to the High North for Exercise Nordic Response - where mock attacks will be carried out and military personnel will be trained to deal with amphibious assaults in northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. Cdre Blackmore said: "We all now turn our eyes fully to Steadfast Defender as we prepare to join up with other NATO ships and embark the aircraft, including Lightning F-35B, Merlin and Wildcat helicopters, that make a carrier strike group such a potent and unique military capability. The UK has an unwavering commitment to NATO and collective deterrence and defence of the Euro-Atlantic region. There is no better demonstration of that than HMS Prince of Wales being at the heart of the upcoming NATO maritime exercises; the largest in over 40 years.”
The Royal Navy previously confirmed that an investigation into the mechanical fault aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth is ongoing. A spokesman said: "On completion of initial investigations, HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail for Rosyth in Scotland so any necessary repairs can be carried out in due course. The cause of the issue with HMS Queen Elizabeth is wear and tear of her starboard propeller shaft coupling.”