Although expected to spend another week in the South Coast Exercise Areas on sea training and helicopter trials, HMS Queen Elizabeth unexpectedly returned home to Portsmouth this evening.
A Royal Navy spokesperson said:
“Following a minor issue with an internal system, the ship’s company were required to remove a small volume of water from the ship. An investigation into the cause is underway.
HMS Queen Elizabeth has had a minor issue relating to water from an internal system. At no point was there damage or breach to the hull. The issue was isolated as soon as possible and all water has now been pumped out. The ship, which was due to return to Portsmouth for a planned maintenance period later in the week, is now returning earlier than planned. This is a precautionary measure and the cause of the issue is now under investigation.”
Forces News reports a high-pressure seawater pipe burst, letting more than 200 tonnes of water into the ship and flooding on several decks. Everyone is safe but the high-pressure burst was apparently enough to buckle a stairwell, bend some bulkheads and split some deck-plates. Reliable naval sources say the ship’s company performed a standard damage-control response to a split pipe. The flood was dramatic but restricted to small compartments and was probably less than 200 tonnes, although they are still analyzing the incident.
There will doubtless be lots of negative comment but it should be remembered that QE is still a new and prototype vessel that has not been declared operational. Each time QE has sailed, greater numbers of personnel and aircraft have been embarked, gradually adding more pressure on internal systems. An aircraft carrier has many miles of pipework for multiple uses which include: fire-fighting (saltwater), fire-fighting (foam), freshwater (for drinking and washing), chilled water (for air conditioning and cooling equipment) and grey water (sewage), plus engine and aviation fuel pipework. There is plenty that can go wrong, but like all the initial problems encountered so far, engineers will overcome them in time.
This leak is unrelated to the minor and fairly routine, stern seal issue that was the cause of hysterical media over-reaction in December 2017 – “HMS Queen Elizabeth is sinking” etc. This issue is also unlikely to prevent the ship from sailing later this year for the Westlant19 deployment when she will carry out further developmental test flying with UK-owned F-35 Jets.