She is currently at anchor south east of the Isle of Wight and divers have been inspecting the ship below the waterline. Unconfirmed reports say there is damage to the starboard propeller shaft but as is usual, official sources will not comment in detail on the material state of the ship. It may be unrelated but the wake visible in the photo above, taken as she sailed yesterday, appears to indicate only the port shaft turning.
An RN spokesperson said today “The ship is receiving external support for ongoing investigations”. For now at least, the official line is that the deployment is still on, they added: “Having successfully sailed from Portsmouth, HMS PRINCE OF WALES remains in the South Coast Exercise Area. We expect her to continue her WESTLANT 22 deployment as planned in the coming days.”
Should the issue prove to be serious it goes without saying that this is extremely unfortunate and not a good look for the RN. HMS Prince of Wales already experience a major internal flood in October 2020 which resulted in the postponement of the planned trip to the US in 2021. Breakdowns and unexpected defects do happen occasionally, even to relatively new vessels. (In April 1986 HMS Illustrious suffered a major gearbox fire as she set out for a 9-month Global 86 deployment. The damage took several months to repair but Illustrious was able to rejoin the tail end of the deployment.) This event should not be taken as a sign there is a fundamental flaw in the QEC propulsion and shaft arrangement, HMS Queen Elizabeth completed a 26,000 nm deployment last year without a problem and HMS Prince of Wales operated in the Arctic earlier this year.
Hopefully, the issue can be resolved quickly but should repair to a propeller shaft be needed, this would imply a requirement for dry docking. HMS Prince of Wales was due to go to Rosyth for a six-week dry-docking for her first Lloyds Naval Ship Rules inspection in 2023 – this could be brought forward and combined with the repair work. Inevitably this would disrupt or result in the cancellation of a long-planned deployment and an important flying trials programme.
More details on this story are likely to emerge in the coming days.