Royal Navy Plans Preemptive Repairs to HMS Prince of Wales’ Port Shaft

HMS Prince of Wales repairs
Prince of Wales' deployment in August 2022 was cut short only miles from the dock due to a problem with her starboard propeller (Royal Navy photo)

Published Feb 3, 2023 11:49 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, remains in drydock in Scotland as the British media is reporting engineers are taking further preemptive steps to prevent future problems which may extend her time out of service. The carrier which cost a reported £3 billion ($3.6 billion) to build is earning a reputation as a trouble-plagued ship after having suffered previous problems twice in 2020 including an extended drydock for repairs.

During a defense committee meeting earlier this week, Vice Admiral Paul Marshall is reported to have said that engineers have found similar problems on the port propeller shaft of the carrier to the issues that they believe lead to the embarrassing failure last summer as the Prince of Wales set out of a tour that was to take her across the Atlantic. She encountered mechanical problems as she passed the Isle of Wight and was forced to anchor for inspections. Divers found “significant damage to the [starboard] shaft and propeller and some superficial damage to the rudder," the Royal Navy reported.

Construction on the ship began in 2011 and it took eight years before she sailed on her maiden voyage in 2019. The Royal Navy declared her fully operational in 2021, but during that time she has suffered a number of delays and mishaps. She was forced into drydock for eight months due to an electrical problem in late 2020.

Arriving in Rosyth, Scotland in October 2022, repairs commenced to the starboard shaft and the damage caused by what is believed to have been the failure of a coupling on an external shaft. The Royal Navy said the carrier would remain in Scotland till spring undergoing the repairs.

In response to questioning during the meeting, the media reports Vice Admiral Paul Marshall said that a similar issue had been identified with a coupling on the port shaft. To prevent a similar problem from occurring in the future the Royal Navy is now working to source parts and undertake repairs to the other shaft. The expectation is that the additional work can be completed on a similar timeline so that the vessel will still be able to leave Scotland this spring, although her departure might be delayed by up to several weeks.

Her sister ship the HMS Queen Elizabeth has reportedly also undergone a survey looking for potential problems on her shafts similar to what was experienced on the HMS Prince of Wales. The Royal Navy reported that it does not believe there is an issue with the shafts on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Defense Committee also asked questions regarding the cause of the failure and what steps the Royal Navy is taking to improve the vessel’s in-service performance. They were told the investigation is nearing a conclusion into the root cause of the 2022 failure while at the same time looking at the Royal Navy’s maintenance and management of materials for the carriers. They hope the report will identify lessons to help improve maintenance.

Plans for the HMS Prince of Wales call for the carrier to return to the naval base at Portsmouth in the spring. She is then scheduled for further upgrades and a period of planned maintenance. She is due to resume operations in the fall of 2023.