SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS Essex strike group and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit will return to Japan after a stop this week in Thailand, a U.S. Navy spokesman said Thursday.

The strike group and the 31st MEU floated for weeks off the coast of Myanmar waiting for permission to provide relief to victims of Cyclone Nargis, which killed an estimated 77,000 people, according to the United States Agency for International Development.

But Myanmar rulers refused to allow the Essex strike group access. The four-ship Navy group and its Marine passengers moored at Laem Chabang, Thailand, on Tuesday, according to Lt. Denver Applehans, spokesman for Task Force 76.

The strike group will leave several heavy-lift helicopters in Thailand in case the Myanmar ruling junta accepts aid offers from the U.S. military, Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said last week.

The Navy ships are scheduled to take the Marines back to Okinawa and then return to their home port of Sasebo after leaving Thailand, Applehans wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now