Royal Navy remains tight-lipped over repairs to leaky warship HMS Prince of Wales

TIGHT-lipped officials from the Royal Navy have refused to say when Britain’s leaky new aircraft carrier will be fixed – but insisted: ‘She will return to sea in due course.’

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 5:00 pm

HMS Prince of Wales is currently confined to Portsmouth Naval Base as engineers attempt to repair a leak, which caused £3.3m of damage to the ship.

The embarrassing gaff happened in October when a faulty fire system unleashed thousands of gallons of water into a compartment in the 65,000-tonne ship, wrecking electrical systems.

The damage was so severe, plans for the £3.2bn ship to sail to America for training were scrapped as top brass ordered the carrier to stay in Portsmouth for the next few months.

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HMS Prince of Wales on her last visit out to sea before lockdown in 2020, where she headed to Liverpool and, inset, a shot of the flooding in one of the ship's engine compartments in October.

Reports claimed the ship could remain stranded at the naval base until May. However, insiders have now cast doubt over this date as the navy continues to struggle with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Questioned by The News over when the 65,000-tonne warship – which was commissioned into the navy in December 2019 – would be up and running again, a spokesman for the Senior Service said: ‘Repairs are continuing in HMS Prince of Wales and she will return to sea in due course,’ before adding: ‘It is Ministry of Defence policy not to discuss the materiel state of individual vessels.’

Shadow armed forces minister Stephen Morgan has demanded the government make repairing Prince of Wales a ‘priority’.

Stills from a video showing water from a burst pipe pouring into a room on HMS Prince of Wales Posted on Jackspeak Facebook page May 16, 2020

‘Any delay to repairs for HMS Prince of Wales could pose a risk to UK defence capabilities,’ the Portsmouth South MP warned. ‘These repairs must be prioritised to avoid any such risk and government must get her fully operational as quickly as possible.'

As previously reported, efforts to repair the flooding damage and fix defects to prevent future leaks on both Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers are set to cost £5.5m.

Defence sources have told The News the navy has faced a tough few months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

‘I don’t think this is a case of the navy trying to be deliberately obstructive about when repairs will be completed – I just think they genuinely don’t know,’ one insider said.

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, Britain's aircraft carriers, come together in their home port of Portsmouth for the first time. This image won Best Maritime Image. By Leading Photographer Ben Corbett

‘Covid has thrown up so many complications, making jobs that in yesteryear wouldn’t have been an issue, into a real logistical nightmare.

‘The pandemic brings with it a lot of uncertainty. It's hard to factor in manpower and timescales if you’re constantly battling lockdowns or people in isolation. It really has been a nightmare of a year.’

Maritime expert Mike Critchley agreed and said the navy was under immense pressure to tackle the pandemic – and to maintain operations.

The retired Lieutenant Commander, of Gosport, said: ‘Covid has affected the navy big time. They have got sailors all over the place injecting people (with the vaccine) but they’ve also been dealing with people and ships having to self-isolate... training schedules must have been heavily clobbered.’

He added concerns over an impending defence review, and what that could mean for military budgets, were causing the military top brass to ‘keep schtum’ until things became ‘clearer’, financially.

HMS Queen Elizabeth was the most expensive to fix up, with the maintenance bill along costing £18m.

Meanwhile, repairs to the vessel following a leak in May hit £3.5m – with an additional £2m to pay for ‘engineering supervision for maintenance and repair’, taking the total cost to £23.5m.

Prince of Wales’s maintenance bill accounted for £11m over the past 12 months. The amount to repair the ship was £2.5m with a supervision cost of £2m.

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