£3bn HMS Prince of Wales breaks down on ‘landmark mission’ to US

Daily news Defence and security

Britain’s £3 billion warship, the HMS Prince of Wales has broken down within hours of embarking on its “landmark mission” to the US.

The Royal Navy’s 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier departed Portsmouth on Saturday but remains anchored off England’s south coast while “investigations into an emerging mechanical issue” are conducted, a spokesperson said.

Damage to a propeller shaft has been reported by the Navy Lookout news site which said divers have been inspecting the ship below the waterline after a “significant technical fault” was experienced soon after departure.

PA news agency reported that HMS Prince of Wales had been due to depart from Portsmouth on Friday before a technical issue caused its delay. It finally set sail on Saturday before being forced to anchor near the Isle of Wight.

Before the incident, the Royal Navy said the warship was on a “landmark mission to shape the future of stealth jet and drone operations off the coast of North America and in the Caribbean.”

One of its roles during the four month deployment was to host the Atlantic Future Forum in New York, “a conference that brings together the brightest minds and most influential thinkers from defence and beyond to strengthen UK and US bonds.”

Before departure, Commanding Officer, Captain Richard Hewitt, said: “Taking the HMS Prince of Wales task group across the Atlantic for the rest of this year will not only push the boundaries of UK carrier operations, but will reinforce our close working relationship with our closest Ally.

“From operating the F35 Lightnings and drones to hosting the Atlantic Future Forum, none of this would be possible without the efforts of the amazing sailors on board, many of which are on their first deployment with the Royal Navy.”

HMS Prince of Wales has history of problems

The UK’s biggest warship has a history of problems and suffered a major internal flood in its engine room in October 2020 which led to a planned trip to the US in 2021 being postponed. The Guardian states the vessel “has reportedly spent fewer than 90 days at sea” in its first two years of service, having twice sprung leaks over a five month period.

HMS Prince of Wales was on operations in the Arctic earlier this year and is due to have its first Lloyds Naval Ship Rules inspection in 2023. This may now be brought forward should repairs to the propeller shaft be needed, which would require dry-docking.

The Royal Navy’s website describes HMS Prince of Wales as “one of the most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK”. Its “awe-inspiring” size and scope boasts a flight deck that is 70 metres wide and 280 metres long – “enough space for three football pitches” – which can embark 36 F-35B aircraft and four Merlin helicopters.

A minimum crew complement of 700 rises to 1,600 with aircraft on board with the carrier holding “45 days’ worth of food in stores.”

As Nato’s command ship, the HMS Prince of Wales “head[s] up the naval element of the alliance’s response force that is capable of being deployed quickly anywhere in the world to react to crises,” the Royal Navy website states. Before suffering its “emerging mechanical issue” the warship was to “remain at high-readiness throughout her mission to America”.

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