YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Fire damage aboard the USS George Washington will delay the swap out with USS Kitty Hawk and may push back the carrier’s arrival to Japan, the Navy announced.

The Kitty Hawk, which left Yokosuka last month for eventual decommissioning in Bremerton, Wash., was to turn over duties to the George Washington this month at Pearl Harbor. The aircraft carrier transfer will now happen in San Diego in August, according to a Navy release.

The George Washington is already in San Diego undergoing repairs. A May 22 fire aboard the George Washington damaged electrical cabling and components in about 80 of the aircraft carrier’s 3,800 spaces, the release said.

While initial assessments are "substantially complete," the fire’s source remains unknown and will be the focus of a Pacific Fleet-based investigation called for by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, the release said.

Norfolk’s Naval Safety Center is also conducting a Safety Investigation Board, the release said.

The damage, which is primarily electrical, "may delay the GW’s deployment to Yokosuka," said Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter after touring the nuclear-powered ship last week. The carrier was to arrive at Yokosuka in August to replace the 47-year-old Kitty Hawk, but Winter said assesing the fire damage won’t be hurried.

"Experience has shown that we must complete the removal of material in the damaged areas before we can make a full assessment of the necessary repairs and corrective actions," said Winter in a statement. "That takes time and until that work is complete" the George Washington’s deployment schedule won’t be definite.

The carrier’s capabilities are "critical" to the Forward-Deployed Naval Force and the Navy is focused on "getting the ship back to sea," he said.

The Navy also wants to put together "lessons learned" from the fire and is studying how it was fought and the extent to which "ship modifications" played a role in spreading the fire, Winter said.

"What we learn here can help us ... improve our damage control training, assess our damage control procedures and equipment, inform future ship alterations, and prevent future accidents of this type," Winter stated.

Meanwhile, the Kitty Hawk will take the George Washington’s place in the upcoming Rim of the Pacific exercises but is expected to complete its January 2009 decommissioning "on schedule."

Officials are working with sailors on both carriers and their families to limit inconveniences caused by the delay, which the release said was the Pacific Fleet’s "top personnel priority."

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