The plumbing is so bad on the 55,000 ton Admiral Kuznetsov that many of its toilets cannot be used, while it has had repeated problems with its power and a string of accidents, naval experts said.
The Soviet-era warship is leading a flotilla of eight naval vessels to the eastern Mediterranean, where its aircraft are expected to join a renewed assault on the rebel-held city of Aleppo.Russian warships head for English Channel Play! 01:06
The Admiral Kuznetsov sailed through the Dover Strait billowing clouds of black smoke on Friday “marked every step of the way” by the Royal Navy’s HMS Duncan, the Defence Secretary said.
Nato officials have said the Russian deployment is the largest of its kind since the Cold War and designed to demonstrate Moscow’s military might as well as blitz the only large rebel-held city in Syria.
But as the ship sailed through the Channel, it was mocked on social media by maritime enthusiasts, for its notoriously poor state of repair.
One Royal Navy source said: “All their ships look shiny on the outside, but are pretty horrid on the inside. You only have to look at the smoke she’s belching out to see not all is well.
“We have had people on board Russian ships in the last 10 years or so and it’s always a bit of a shock. The conditions inside are pretty manky.”
Peter Roberts, naval expert at the Royal United Services Institute, said: “In naval folklore, there’s something called an unlucky ship and Kuznetsov is undoubtedly an unlucky ship.
“Kuznetsov is one of those that has things going wrong through design and just through luck.”
Work began on the Admiral Kuznetsov in 1982 and it was commissioned in 1990. Since then it has been plagued by technical problems, he said.
The vessel is powered by steam turbines and turbo-pressurized boilers that are so unreliable that it is accompanied by a large ocean-going tug whenever it deploys, in case it breaks down.
Flaws in the water piping system mean it freezes during winter. To prevent pipes bursting, the water is turned off to most of the cabins and half the latrines do no work.
Mr Roberts, a former Royal Navy officer, said: “There’s nothing more depressing for a naval captain when he leaves home waters than to be escorted by a tug because even your commander in chief thinks you are going to break down.”
One sailor was killed when a fire started on board the ship during a visit to Turkey in 2009. The ship also spilled hundreds of tons of oil in the Irish Sea during a refuelling accident the same year.
But Mr Roberts said despite the ship’s troubles, it could not be written off.
He said: “She’s a big, fast and impressive ship with capable jets and she’s going to war in Syria.”
He said the Royal Navy still does not yet have any aircraft carriers of its own and Britain is a decade away from being able to carry out a similar deployment with its own warships and jets.
“The [Kutnetsov’s] power plant is bad, but I am not sure we in Britain should over criticise that given our recent history with the Type 45.”
The Navy announced earlier this year that all six of its Type 45 destroyers needed engine refits after troubles with power outages.
He went on: “It’s easy to be disparaging, she’s an unlucky ship and she has really basic errors in design, but she still represents an impressive capability.”
Russian warships escorted towards English ChannelPlay!00:31
“It’s a limited capability compared to a US carrier, but it’s not to be dismissed.
“It can provide limited capability and it they get to the eastern Mediterranean they can launch some strikes in Syria with these planes.”