Repairing leak on Navy’s new £3bn aircraft carrier ‘won’t cost taxpayer a penny’

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Repairs to a leaking HMS Queen Elizabeth, the UK’s new £3.1 billion aircraft carrier, will not cost the British taxpayer a penny, the Defence Secretary has insisted.

The warship, the biggest and most powerful built by the UK, was accepted into the Royal Navy fleet by the Queen earlier this month.

Pressed on suggestions that repairs could cost millions, Gavin Williamson told the Press Association the money would come “from the contractors who built her”.

“This isn’t going to cost the British taxpayer a penny,” he said, as it was revealed a leaky seal was causing water to pour into the behemoth warship.

The vessel, which is 65,000 tonnes and 919ft (280m) long, has an estimated working life of half a century and is believed to have been leaking for some time.

It is understood the cost of fixing the leak will not cost millions as reported, but the bill could reach into the hundreds of thousands.

Mr Williamson said: “This is the reason why we have the sea trials, to make sure that everything is working absolutely perfectly.

“This is something that work is currently ongoing to deal with, and HMS Queen Elizabeth will be going out early on in the new year to continue her sea trials and making sure she is fully operable in terms of helicopters and the F-35 being able to fly off her deck.

“HMS Queen Elizabeth is the most magnificent aircraft carrier in the world and, when she is fully operational and she is being deployed right around the world, she is going to make a significant difference as to what we can actually achieve and what we are able to do as a global power.”

A spokeswoman for the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA) said the leaky seal was known about prior to HMS Queen Elizabeth being commissioned and accepted into the Royal Navy.

She said the vessel could be taken to sea, the problem is expected to take a couple of days to fix, and it should be rectified in the new year without any need to take the ship into a dry dock.

“It is normal practice for a volume of work and defect resolution to continue following vessel acceptance,” she said.

The spokeswoman said the ACA, a group of companies which built the ship, has a six-month period in which adjustments and “snagging issues” can be dealt with.

She said the costs will be covered by the ACA and the industry bodies involved in the construction, including BAE Systems, Babcock and Thales.

Responding to the news, defence minister Tobias Ellwood tweeted: “Let’s keep things in perspective: It’s a 65,000 tonne ship taking on a bath tub of water every hour.

“Not uncommon with big ships – will be fixed.”

A number of shipbuilding yards around the country were involved in building the vessel, including Govan and Scotstoun in Glasgow, Appledore in Devon, Cammell Laird in Liverpool, and A&P on the Tyne in Newcastle and Portsmouth.

More than 10,000 people worked on the ship, which was built in sections at yards around the UK and transported to Rosyth, Fife, where it was assembled.

As the vessel arrived in Portsmouth for the first time in the summer, Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the ship as a “stunning piece” of 21st century engineering.

A Royal Navy spokesman said: “This is the biggest ship in our history, and sea trials are precisely for finding manageable teething problems like this and rectifying them.

“Repairs under contract are already under way alongside in Portsmouth and the sea trials will take place as planned in the new year, when we will continue to rigorously test the ship before she enters service.”

During her working life the vessel can be pressed into action for tasks such as high intensity war fighting or providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

She will also serve as a floating military base for the F-35B stealth fighter jets that will launch from the deck of the vessel to undertake missions.

The UK currently has 14 F-35s in the United States being tested before flight trials off the ship next year.