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Women crew to join submarines

The US Navy selected four submarines yesterday to carry the first women to serve aboard what had been the last class of American naval vessel off-limits to them.

Twenty-four female officers are in training for submarine service and are expected to join their vessels in December 2011. The Navy selected the USS Wyoming and USS Georgia, based in Kings Bay, Georgia, and the USS Maine and USS Ohio, with their home port in Bangor, Washington.

The Navy announced earlier this year that it was lifting the ban on women serving aboard submarines. They had been barred on the theory that the close quarters and long deployments common to these ships were unsuitable for a mixed sex crew.

The 560-foot nuclear-powered craft are big by submarine standards, which allows the Navy greater flexibility in designing accommodations for the first women aboard.

The women will initially serve in teams of three, all sharing a stateroom, Navy spokeswoman Lt Rebecca Rebarich said. The lone bathroom for officers will bear a reversible sign to let male officers know when it is in use by women and vice versa.

They will be divided up so that women are assigned to each of the submarine's two rotating crews.

Limiting the intake to officers lets the Navy sidestep the more vexing problem of modifying the vessels to have separate bunks and bathrooms for enlisted men and women. Enlisted sailors make up 90 per cent of a submarine's 160-member crew.