NAPLES, Italy — The Norfolk, Va.-based USS Mount Whitney is en route to Gaeta to relieve the USS La Salle as the U.S. 6th Fleet Flagship, officials said.

The official flagship turnover ceremony has been set for the end of February in Gaeta, said Cmdr. Cate Mueller, fleet spokeswoman.

The aging La Salle, a miscellaneous command ship, has served as 6th Fleet’s flagship for 10 years. It is scheduled to be decommissioned in Norfolk upon its return to the United States.

For more than 30 years, the larger Mount Whitney had served as the 2nd Fleet command ship. At Gaeta, it will provide command-and-control capabilities for U.S. and NATO forces in Europe.

The amphibious command ship is expected to arrive in Gaeta in early February. In October, it was converted to a Military Sealift Command USNS ship. It will have a crew of 143 civilian mariners and 157 sailors.

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