Britain’s biggest and most powerful ever warship returned to port early after sailors on board were at risk of drowning, according to reports.
A source told Forces News that 200 tonnes of water leaked onto HMS Queen Elizabeth after a high-pressure pipe burst.
The claims contradict a Ministry of Defence statement on Monday that said the ship’s company had to remove “a small volume of water” from the carrier after a “minor issue with an internal system”.
All the people who were on board the vessel were safe but a mental health support team has been made available after the leak, according to Forces News.
The website added that three sailors were at risk of drowning.
The burst of the salt water pipe is said to have buckled a stairwell and split some deck-plates on the £3.1bn aircraft carrier.
All water from the leak is said to have been pumped out of the ship, and it is understood there was no damage or breach to the hull.
HMS Queen Elizabeth left Portsmouth Naval Base in June to embark on five weeks of sea trials, so it can be operational in over a year’s time.
Sky’s defence correspondent Alistair Bunkall said: “Whatever happens now, this repair will have to happen and it will set her back in the sea trials, it will set the programme back.
“How big the delay is will depend on how big the problem is, and that is not yet public knowledge and that is not yet identified.
“It’s bad news for the aircraft carrier, but having said that, things do happen when you have a new ship like this.
“You do get setbacks and it must be seen in that context.”
The Ministry of Defence has said the aircraft carrier was due to return for planned maintenance later this week but returned earlier as a “precautionary measure”.
The department said in its statement on Monday: “Following a minor issue with an internal system on HMS Queen Elizabeth, the ship’s company were required to remove a small volume of water from the ship.
“An investigation into the cause is under way.”
This latest problem follows a number of other issues including a shaft seal leak which caused water to pour into the ship, and the accidental trigger of the sprinklers in the hangar.