According to a spokesperson for the British Ministry of Defense (MOD), the HMS Prince of Wales suffered an “emerging mechanical issue” and is now broken down just off Britain’s southern coast. The unexpected breakdown of the aircraft carrier, considered a North Atlantic Treaty Organization flagship, came a day after it left Portsmouth on Aug. 27.
A spokesperson for the Royal Navy stated that HMS Prince of Wales “remains in the South Coast Exercise Area while [authorities are] conducting investigations into an emerging mechanical issue.” British naval news site Navy Lookout confirmed this development, saying that divers have been investigating the 930-foot farrier following damage to a propeller shaft.
“Should the issue prove to be serious it goes without saying that this is extremely unfortunate and not a good look for the [Royal Navy],” it said.
HMS Prince of Wales, the Royal Navy’s second aircraft carrier after HMS Queen Elizabeth, became fully operational in October 2021 following several repairs. However, the vessel costing an estimated £3 billion (US$3.48 billion) has had a history of problems.
During its first two years in service, the aircraft carrier apparently spent fewer than 90 days at sea after gushing leaks twice in five months. It was grounded in Portsmouth at the end of 2020 after flooding in the ship’s engine room damaged the electronics. (Related: Britain’s new aircraft carrier is full of COVID-vaccinated sailors who are now testing positive for the virus.)
Warship’s US mission now a big question mark
The breakdown of the HMS Prince of Wales, coupled with its record of troubles within its first year at sea, puts its four-month mission to the U.S. in peril. The mission seeks to address F-35 fighter takeoffs and operations involving advanced drones. The ship is also scheduled to stop by New York, Halifax in Canada’s Nova Scotia province and the Caribbean.
Navy Lookout stated that unless the problem can be decided at sea – allowing it to proceed with its U.S. mission – the ship might be required to go into dry dock at Scotland’s Rosyth Dockyard ahead of a planned 2023 inspection.
A Navy source told the Daily Mail that the breakdown was a “serious setback” that could see the ship “taken out of the water” and put into dry dock. The trouble may take a “significant period of time to fix,” the source added.
Rear Adm. Steve Moorhouse, who is in charge of making sure Royal Navy ships are ready to deploy, verified in a statement on August 29, that a “mechanical fault was discovered with the starboard shaft.” He hinted that the fault will “require repairs which may impact the ship’s program.” Meaning, there is a huge chance the HMS Prince of Wales won’t be able to set sail.
Rear Adm. Dr. Chris Parry seconded his colleague, saying that the warship will have to “come alongside again or even go into some sort of dry dock arrangement” the moment a “serious fault” is found.
“We’ve got an issue here with a vastly complex piece of machinery, warships nowadays are technologically advanced. In some ways they are quite fragile and just like a car, sometimes you take it out and there’s a mechanical fault you have to deal with,” he said during an Aug. 30 appearance on the BBC Radio 4 program “Today.”
Naval leaders now have to determine whether to rush Britain’s other carrier – the HMS Queen Elizabeth – to sea instead. Moreover, there is still no official MOD verification of propeller damage or the extent of possible damage.
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