USS George Washington may Leave Japan for Repairs


Maintenance work on the aircraft carrier George Washington was continuing March 30 in waters off Japan, more than a week after it left its berth in Fleet Activities Yokosuka to escape radiation detected by the ship’s sensitive equipment during a yard period.

But lingering worries about the failing Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, some 170 miles north of Yokosuka, raise questions: How long can George Washington sustain its selective restricted availability (SRA) while underway? If Yokosuka isn’t available as a viable and safe yard, what other port in Japan and in the region can support a carrier that needs to finish its maintenance period? Would the Navy send its carrier out of the region, temporarily leaving the forward-deployed naval forces and return to stateside shipyards in San Diego; Bremerton, Wash.; or Pearl Harbor, Hawaii?

For now, George Washington will remain underway to complete repairs and upgrades scheduled for the SRA, Navy officials said

“George Washington remains off the coast of Japan with shipyard workers embarked who are continuing its maintenance at sea,” said Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a 7th Fleet spokesman aboard the command ship Blue Ridge. “We have nothing to announce at the moment with regards to the ship’s future schedule or its return date to Yokosuka.”

On March 21, when GW left Yokosuka as a precautionary measure, it carried its ships’ company of 3,100 — its air wing stayed ashore — as well as some 450 civilian shipyard workers from the naval shipyards in Puget Sound, Wash., and Norfolk, Va. The maintainers are working alongside sailors to repair and upgrade ship systems, equipment and spaces, including getting the ship’s laundry running, improving ventilation and fixing pipes.

One former carrier skipper said most maintenance underway is doable, but may be limited by the repairs, maintenance and equipment required for the SRA. At sea, “you can’t do near as much as in the shipyard, but [carriers] have a great repair capability aboard,” said Ronald Christenson, a retired rear admiral and former commander of the carrier Enterprise. For an SRA, “both the crew and the shipyard workers do a lot of work together on the ship,” he said.
Nearby ports limited

There are few alternative ports in Japan where George Washington could readily get direct shore support if needed.

Fleet Activities Sasebo, 600 miles southwest of Tokyo, is home to a ship repair facility, but the port isn’t large enough to support a nuclear carrier pierside. Carriers routinely stop in Sasebo, dropping anchor in the bay.

When the quake struck, the destroyer Lassen was also at Yokosuka in an SRA maintenance period. Lassen’s SRA was suspended by 7th Fleet, and the ship got underway March 21 for Sasebo after shipyard crews and sailors removed scaffolding, replaced the flight deck’s nonskid coating and reinstalled weapons and mounts. Lassen arrived March 25 in Sasebo.

If George Washington had to be pierside to complete maintenance and Yokosuka wasn’t available, there are other alternatives, Christenson said.

“You can send them to San Diego or Bremerton. They’ve got major repair facilities and can fix just about anything,” he said. “The question all depends on what maintenance is being done.”

Capt. David Lausman, GW’s commanding officer, lauded the job done by the sailors and shipyard workers to get the carrier seaworthy and underway in the aftermath of the earthquake.

“Every system was dismantled and undergoing routine maintenance and improvement when the earthquake struck,” Lausman said in a March 27 note posted on the carrier’s Facebook page.

“In record time, just 11 days after the earthquake, the ship got underway completely under her own power,” he wrote March 30.

Shipyard workers helped V4 division sailors in a notable feat: Hauling a 2-ton jet propellant fuel purifier down seven decks. Installing the tank, described as large as a Volkswagen Beetle, typically is done in port, where it can be moved through a hole cut into the ship. But there wasn’t time to do the work in Yokosuka, so the crew disassembled the tank, got all the parts to the pump room and then reassembled it.

By Gidget Fuentes (navy)
Source: navy,April 4, 2011;