WASHINGTON -- The Navy said Thursday that the retirement of Rear Adm. Lawrence Rice has been deferred pending the conclusion of an investigation into raunchy videos produced by Capt. Owen Honors on board the USS Enterprise

Rice was the ship's commanding officer when the videos produced in 2006 and 2007 by Honors went viral last week. Rice had planned to retire on Feb. 1.

Images produced and broadcast by Honors on board while he was the ship's executive officer showed simulated masturbation, suggestive shower scenes with partially nude women and the gratuitous use of gay slurs. 

Navy spokesman Rear Adm. Dennis Moynihan said "deferment was a necessary step." 

However, the Navy would not explain why deferment is necessary. But by keeping him in the service, the Navy will have the opportunity to formally reprimand Rice if deemed necessary. 

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One military official told Fox News that if he's punished it would most likely be some type of administrative action, such as a letter of reprimand. It's also possible that if the investigation concludes Rice was somehow implicated in the production or the videos or somehow negligent by failing to halt their production, the Navy's justice system could decide to punish Rice by forcing him to retire at a lower rank.

Rice will remain at U.S. Fleet Forces Command while the investigation continues.

Meanwhile the USS Enterprise, the Navy's oldest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, deployed to the Middle East region Thursday without Honors. Honors was permanently relieved of his command last week by the head of U.S. Fleet Forces for showing a "profound lack of good judgment and professionalism." He was replaced by Capt. Dee L. Mewbourne.

While the media repeatedly broadcast clips of the video and expressed outrage, a support group for Honors emerged on Facebook. Thousands of people joined the support page, many of them service members who had worked under Honors. His supporters argued the videos provided comedic relief during a stressful seven-month deployment and for the most part served as useful general safety and procedure announcements.

Navy investigators announced last week that they would question higher-ups to learn who among the senior Navy leadership knew about the videos when they were shown repeatedly to thousands of crew members aboard the Enterprise.

Rear Adm. Lawrence Rice commanded the Enterprise from December 2004 to May 2007. Others who are potentially facing questioning include Rear Adm. Ron Horton, who commanded the ship from mid-May 2007 to May 2010. Rear Adm. Raymond Spicer, who commanded the Enterprise carrier strike group from August 2005 to February 2007 and Vice Adm. Daniel Holloway, who commanded the strike group from February 2007 to August 2008.