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11 Mar, 2024 13:54

Britain’s flagship aircraft carrier catches fire en route for repairs

The blaze was the latest in a long line of malfunctions to befall the HMS Queen Elizabeth
Britain’s flagship aircraft carrier catches fire en route for repairs

Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth has caught fire while docked in Scotland to unload ammunition prior to having its propeller shaft repaired. The propeller issue had caused the £3 billion ($3.85 billion) warship to miss NATO’s largest exercise in decades last month.

The blaze broke out while the carrier was docked at Glenmallan on Friday night, a Royal Navy spokesperson said on Saturday. “A minor, isolated fire on HMS Queen Elizabeth was quickly brought under control and extinguished,” the spokesman told the UK Defence Journal.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth was unloading ammunition at the time of the incident. From there, it is due to head to the port of Rosyth to undergo repairs to its starboard propeller shaft coupling.

Damage to this critical component was discovered last month, preventing the carrier from leading NATO’s ‘Steadfast Defender’ drills. Running from late January until June, the exercises are the bloc’s largest since the end of the Cold War. The HMS Prince of Wales, the Queen Elizabeth’s sister ship, was dispatched to lead the drills in its place, although its departure from port was then delayed due to an apparent fuel leak.

Both the Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales have been plagued by breakdowns and malfunctions since they were commissioned in 2017 and 2019 respectively. An unknown mechanical issue left the Queen Elizabeth without propulsion in 2019, days before a burst pipe flooded multiple levels of the ship.

The Prince of Wales flooded twice in 2020, and suffered the same malfunction to its starboard propeller shaft coupling in 2022 as it left the UK for joint exercises with the US military. The breakdown required nine months of repairs, during which damage to the port side shaft was also discovered.

Both carriers are 65,000-ton behemoths, capable of launching NATO’s next-generation F-35B fighter jet and operating at a range of 10,000 nautical miles. The UK, however, does not have enough F-35Bs to equip either ship with a full complement of the vertical-takeoff fighters. Neither ship has ever sailed with a full crew, and neither is equipped with a catapult for launching cheaper and more widely available combat aircraft like the American F/A-18 or French Dassault Rafale M.

“To have one £3 billion aircraft carrier which breaks down is a misfortune, but to have two seems like carelessness,” former Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois told the Daily Mail last month. “It is excruciatingly embarrassing for the navy. Just imagine if this carrier had actually been sailing off to war?”

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