More than 200 sailors are no longer living on a Virginia-based Navy ship after three suicide deaths occurred within a one-week span in April, CNN reports.
Many USS George Washington aircraft carrier crew members are voluntarily relocating to a nearby facility while the vessel undergoes maintenance, which will include a "years-long refueling and overhaul process at the shipyard in Newport News," officials confirm. Naval Air Force Atlantic said the "move plan will continue until all Sailors who wish to move off-ship have done so," adding that commanding officer Capt. Brent Gaut made the decision to give sailors this option.
Navy personnel are investigating after seven crew members died over the past 12 months, four of which were by suicide. CNN says investigators will focus on the "command climate and culture onboard."
Though the ship can carry up to 5,000 sailors, only around 2,000 to 3,000 sailors currently live onboard. The Navy is working to assist sailors who could "benefit from and desire the support services and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs," along with setting up "temporary accommodations," CNN writes.
Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a 20-year Navy veteran, demanded immediate action, writing in a letter to the Chief of Naval Operations: "Each of these deaths is a tragedy, and the number of incidents within a single command, which includes as many as four sailors taking their own lives, raises significant concern that requires immediate and stringent inquiry." Luria's office reportedly received complaints about toxic conditions aboard the ship.