Six Royal Navy sailors were arrested for drunk and disorderly behaviour just hours after HMS Queen Elizabeth docked in Florida following its first transatlantic voyage.
Three were also charged with resisting arrest and two were Tasered by local police officers amid claims that sailors were seen urinating from a pub balcony into the street, fighting each other and causing friction by not tipping enough.
The £3 billion, 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier, nicknamed Big Lizzie, docked at Mayport naval base on Wednesday and hundreds of its crew spilled out into local pubs and bars.
Keith Doherty, the owner and manager of Lynch’s Irish Pub in Jacksonville, said: “I think we need a modern day Paul Revere to let us know that the British are coming.”
Sgt. Larry Smith of the Jacksonville Beach Police Department said most of the British sailors were taken into custody on drunk and disorderly charges and three of them were also charged with resisting arrest.
Of the three who were resisting, he said one was pushing and pulling away from an officer, another wouldn’t put his hands behind his back and the other was just being disrespectful.
Crew onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth as she leaves Portsmouth
Crew onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth as she leaves Portsmouth Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
The sailor who refused to put his hands behind his back had to be stunned with a Taser before he was arrested, he said.
Another would not stop fighting when asked and so was also Tasered, reportedly by a female police officer.
Sgt Smith told the Florida Times-Union that the problem was not that sailors were getting into drunken fights with locals but fighting each other.
“These guys come in town periodically,” he told the newspaper.
“They beat the mess out of each other and fight each other more than anything, but once they pick up their teeth off the ground they are best friends.”
He said one of the six arrests was at Lynch’s, when a sailor was asked to leave the bar but returned and was arrested on a trespassing charge.
Sgt Smith added: “It was a case of good people making bad decisions, they got drunk and they fought among themselves.
“It happens. They seem to beat the mess out of each other and knock their teeth out, but once they pick up their teeth off the ground they hug and then are best friends again.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth Harbour
HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth Harbour Credit: Christopher Pledger
Some bar managers suggested that there were problems with the sailors not tipping well, although they admitted they understood the custom was different in the US.
Haleigh Snow, a manager at Poe’s Tavern in Atlantic Beach, said: “They tipped a little under 10 percent, and I don’t think they knew they were doing anything wrong. Other than that, we haven’t had any trouble.”
Mr Doherty told the Telegraph the sailors had visited his bar each night of shore leave last week but insisted that although they “would get a bit boisterous” it was “nothing out of hand.”
“We had them here every night and there was only one incident when we refused to let someone who was too drunk in and he ended up trying to climb over a wall and banged his head,” he said.
“We had a rock band on playing American and British music. They enjoyed themselves, they were jumping around.”
The six sailors were detained overnight and appeared in a Florida court on Thursday morning before being released. It is unclear whether they face any further criminal action in the US but they may face sanctions under UK military law.
A Royal Navy spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that a number of naval personnel are assisting US police with their enquiries – it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.
“The Naval Service places great importance on maintaining the highest possible standards of behaviour from its personnel at all times.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth left Portsmouth Naval Base on August 18 and will undergo trials with F-35B fighter jets ahead of its first operational deployment in 2021.