The USS Constellation was able to remain at sea today after 20 sailors suffered minor injuries while dousing fires in an engine room on the aircraft carrier, Navy officials said.

The injured sailors were taken to Balboa Navy Hospital here for treatment, said Lt. Cmdr. Bob Pritchard, a Navy spokesman. Most of the injuries resulted from smoke or burns and all were minor, he said."The ship remains at sea and intends to remain there to make sure there are no reflashes and to assess damage, at which point a decision will be made as to when she will return to port to effect repairs," he said.

The entire crew of about 2,500 battled the fires, which began shortly after noon Tuesday, Pritchard said.

The ship had just left San Diego and was less than five miles off the coast when the first fire started in one the ship's four engine rooms.

That fire was contained but flames flared later in the afternoon, Pritchard said.

"Actually, we had many small fires," he said.

Navy officials began investigating today what caused the fires.

The crews of the guided missile cruiser USS Fox and the destroyer tender USS Acadia assisted in firefighting earlier in the day because they were in the vicinity when the first fire broke out, Pritchard said.

The Constellation was heading out for a session in which pilots qualify to fly various types of aircraft from the carrier, he said. The qualification tests are regularly conducted off the Southern California coast, he said.