ROYAL Navy flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth suffered a serious ‘mechanical issue’ which left her ‘without propulsion’ just days before a major flood affected the warship, The News can exclusively reveal.
The £3.1bn behemoth – the biggest warship ever made in Britain – reportedly had a fault in her electric drive shortly after setting sail from Portsmouth for her sea trials, last month.
Navy top brass have since downplayed the problem, with a former head of the Senior Service saying it was ‘just a niggle’.
But sources said the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier ‘lost all propulsion’ for several hours, forcing the 280m-long leviathan to anchor off Britannia Royal Naval College for 24 hours while repairs were carried out.
One insider said the issue ‘severely’ impacted tests following a major maintenance period in Rosyth, Scotland, earlier in the year, and meant ‘full-power trials were not achieved’.
Instead Queen Elizabeth spent an extended period at anchor near Plymouth where further investigations were carried out to identify the propulsion ‘defects’.
Questioned by The News on June 28 – days before the flood forced the carrier to make an unscheduled return to Portsmouth last week – the navy said it ‘would not discuss the materiel state’ of its vessels nor ‘details of their programmes’.
However, in an admission to The News today, a Royal Navy spokesman confirmed there had been problems.
‘HMS Queen Elizabeth did experience some propulsion issues during her sea training period but rectified them before continuing with her programme at that time,’ the official insisted.
However, Admiral Lord Alan West, a former head of the navy, said he was not worried about the issues.
‘These are just the niggles of a new warship,’ he said. ‘These things happen. It’s all part of the shakedown process.
‘She has not even done a full work up yet. So no, I’m not concerned about this at all.’
But the issue has worried fellow Labour politician Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, who said: ‘I have made urgent enquiries and I’m confident the Royal Navy will overcome these issues and restore the carrier to full operational capability.’
As well as facing a fault with the propulsion, the vessel is also understood to be struggling to find enough sailors to run all her kitchens.
Sources claimed the lack of chefs left only one main galley manned during the carrier's sea trial, which resulted in junior rates being forced to cram into the senior rates’ dining hall, while senior rates shared the officers’ wardroom.
The Senior Service did not comment on ‘the detailed crewing status’ of Queen Elizabeth but a spokesman did say: ‘The Royal Navy has acknowledged the difficulties it faces in the recruitment of chefs and catering ratings and have developed recruiting initiatives to address this.’
Queen Elizabeth returned to Portsmouth on Tuesday. National media reports claimed a burst pipe spewed between 200 and 250 tonnes of water into the ship, with water being ‘neck-high’ in parts of the ship.
The navy said nobody was at risk of drowning, with a source telling The News the actual amount of water leaked was ‘significantly less’ than previously quoted – although no official figure has been given.
Despite the issues the navy insisted Queen Elizabeth achieved plenty during her 23 days at sea.
Over the course of her trials. the warship carried out 562 deck landings and a range of exercises from fire-fighting and search and rescue drills to air defence tests.
She also, for the first time, conducted live-fire drills with her Phalanx anti-air gun, which can spew 4,500 rounds a minute into the air to destroy jets and missiles.