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The USS George Washington left the San Diego’s North Island on Thursday on its way to Japan.

The USS George Washington left the San Diego’s North Island on Thursday on its way to Japan. (Don Bray/Courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS George Washington started its journey to Japan on Thursday after a several-month layover in San Diego for repairs.

The aircraft carrier is due to arrive here late next month to become the largest ship in the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed naval forces. It also will be the first nuclear-powered ship ever forward-deployed to Japan.

It replaces the 48-year-old conventionally-powered USS Kitty Hawk that was stationed in Yokosuka for a decade.

The carriers’ scheduled swap was delayed after a May 22 blaze aboard the George Washington left 37 sailors with minor injuries and caused $70 million worth of damage. Navy officials have since said that unauthorized smoking sparked the fire and officials subsequently relieved both the George Washington’s commanding officer and executive officer.

The ship left San Diego’s North Island on Thursday with Capt. John R. Haley at the helm, according to a Navy news release.

The George Washington is carrying a full crew of about 5,500, including personnel from the Japan-based Carrier Air Wing 5, Destroyer Squadron 15 and Command Task Force 70, the release said.

The George Washington’s arrival in Japan heralds a new age in "capabilities" for both 7th Fleet and Japan, said Commander U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Cmdr. Ron Steiner.

"It’s a historic event," Steiner said. "We look forward to having more capabilities for the Japanese-American alliance."

The Kitty Hawk is in San Diego and will soon make its way to Bremerton, Wash., for decommissioning sometime next year, the release said.

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