Repairs to a leaking HMS Queen Elizabeth, the UK’s new £3.1bn aircraft carrier, will not cost the British taxpayer a penny, the Defence Secretary has insisted.
The warship, the biggest and most powerful ever built by the UK, was only accepted into the Royal Navy fleet by the Queen earlier this month.
Pressed on suggestions that repairs could cost millions, Gavin Williamson said the money would come ‘from the contractors who built her’.
‘This isn’t going to cost the British taxpayer a penny,’ he said, as it was revealed a leaky seal was causing water to pour into the behemoth warship.
The vessel, which is 65,000 tonnes and 919ft (280m) long, has an estimated working life of half a century and is believed to have been leaking for some time.
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.
Mr Williamson went on: “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.’
A spokeswoman for the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA) said the leaky seal was known about prior to HMS Queen Elizabeth being commissioned and accepted into the Royal Navy.
She added that the vessel could be taken to sea, that the problem is expected to take a couple of days to fix, and that it should be rectified in the new year - 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 her construction - which includes BAE Systems and Babcock and Thales.
A number of shipbuilding yards around the country were involved in building the vessel, including Govan and Scotstoun in Glasgow, Appledore in Devon, Cammell Laird in Liverpool, and A&P on the Tyne in Newcastle and Portsmouth.
More than 10,000 people worked on the ship, which was built in sections at yards around the UK and transported to Rosyth, Fife, where it was assembled.
As the vessel arrived in Portsmouth for the first time in the summer, Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the ship as a ‘stunning piece’ of 21st century engineering.
Mr Williamson, as he stepped into the HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time last month, said the ship will ‘strike fear’ into the hearts of Britain’s enemies.
During her first phase of sea trials in July, the ship’s commanding officer Captain Jerry Kyd said they came across some tweaks and changes - that would continue to be made over the next couple of years.
A Royal Navy spokesman said: ‘An issue with a shaft seal has been identified during HMS Queen Elizabeth’s sea trials; this is scheduled for repair while she is alongside at Portsmouth.
‘It does not prevent her from sailing again and her sea trials programme will not be affected.’
During her working life the ship can be pressed into action for various tasks such as high intensity war fighting or providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
She will also serve as a floating military base for the F-35B stealth fighter jets that will launch from the deck of the vessel to undertake missions.
The UK currently has 14 F-35s in the United States being tested ahead of flight trials off the ship next year - with one more plane being delivered by the end of 2017.