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'Maintenance issue' forces USS Essex back to port en route to exercise

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A “maintenance issue” forced the USS Essex back into port Thursday, meaning the ship, its crew and some members of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit won’t be off the coast of Australia when Talisman Sabre 2011 kicks off Monday, Navy officials said Friday.

The ship instead will take part in the exercise from Sasebo, according to Lt. Colby Drake, spokesman for the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group. The crew will simulate the exercises as if the ship were underway with its approximately 330 sailors, Marines and their staff elements still onboard.

“Essex and her embarked staffs’ participation will be nearly identical to if they were underway off the coast of Australia with some exceptions,” Drake said in an e-mail.

The Essex, a Wasp class multipurpose amphibious assault ship commissioned in 1992, left Sasebo on June 22 and sailed to Okinawa to pick up the 31st MEU troops. The Marines who embarked on the ship for the exercise were returned to White Beach after the problem arose.

Navy officials couldn’t be reached for comment Friday on the exact problem with the ship.

Meanwhile, the USS Germantown — also from Sasebo — arrived in Townsville, Australia, on Thursday and will participate in the exercise as planned, Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. j.g. Joe Painter said in an e-mail. The Germantown will participate in the amphibious portion of the exercises later this month, with about 1,000 sailors and Marines and three Landing Craft Air Cushion hovercrafts taking part.

Talisman Sabre is a joint military and humanitarian exercise  scheduled to run through July 29 off the northern and eastern coasts of Australia. Some 22,000 personnel from the U.S., Australia and Canada, including about 14,000 U.S. servicemembers from the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Army, operating nine ships and submarines and 135 aircraft are scheduled to take part.

This will be the fourth Talisman Sabre exercise. However, for the first time, there will be a significant presence of civilians from government agencies in the U.S. and Australia. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice will be on hand in an attempt to better synchronize their efforts with the military boots on the ground.

burkem@pstripes.osd.mil

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