Britain’s biggest warship could miss important flight trials with jets off the US coast after it suffered a propeller shaft malfunction shortly after setting sail, the Royal Navy has said.
HMS Prince of Wales, a £3bn aircraft carrier, left Portsmouth naval base on Saturday and suffered an “emerging mechanical issue” off the south-east coast of the Isle of Wight.
The departure of the Nato flagship had already been delayed from Friday because of a technical problem, although it is not known if the incidents were related.
Shortly after the 65,000-tonne vessel sailed on Saturday, a mechanical fault was discovered with the starboard shaft.
The 930-foot carrier had been scheduled to undertake trials with F-35B Lightning jets in the US during the four-month deployment.
Rear Admiral Steve Moorhouse, director of Force Generation, who is responsible for ensuring Royal Navy ships are ready to deploy, said in a video statement: “I’ve been to the ship today to see for myself what the issue is and how we in the Royal Navy can work together to make sure the ship can successfully return to her tasking.
“After the initial assessment, it’s likely that the fault will require repairs which may impact the ship’s programme. The ship is now moving to a more sheltered anchorage for further inspection and then we’ll be able to provide further comment on the nature of the issue and the impact to her current schedule.
“We’ve reacted quickly to the emergent defect and are working closely with industry partners to resolve this as soon as we can. Rest assured, the Royal Navy continues to meet its commitments to deliver operations and to keep the UK, our partners and allies safe.”
The Nato flagship was sailing to undertake training exercises with the US Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy and the US Marine Corps.
The “landmark” mission aimed to shape the future of stealth jet and drone operations off the coast of North America and in the Caribbean.
Specialist website Navy Lookout said a photograph of the carrier leaving Portsmouth showed a wake only on the port side, suggesting a problem with the other propeller shaft.
It added that unless the problem can be resolved at sea the warship might need to go into dry dock at Rosyth, Scotland, months earlier than a planned inspection in 2023.
The carrier had been given a colourful send-off as it departed on Saturday afternoon and passed thousands of music lovers at the Victorious festival on Southsea Common in Portsmouth.
HMS Prince of Wales, which became fully operational only last year, was commissioned at a ceremony in Portsmouth attended by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in 2019.