The United States Navy will evacuate the majority of the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s more than 4,000-member crew to disinfect the aircraft carrier following an outbreak of novel Coronavirus onboard.
The announcement came a day after the ship’s commander, Captain Brett Crozier, implored the U.S. Navy to enable him to evacuate his sailors in a dramatic four-page letter leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Teddy Roosevelt, a massive Nimitz-class carrier, was ordered into port in Guam last week following the discovery of a coronavirus outbreak on board. Initially, symptomatic personnel were offloaded while others were ordered to self-quarantine for fourteen days. Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said last week the entire crew would be tested onboard the ship.
Captain Crozier wrote in his letter on Monday that those measures were not working.
“With the exception of a handful of senior officer staterooms, none of the berthing onboard a warship is appropriate for quarantine or isolation” the captain wrote. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”
Acting Secretary Modly described challenges posed by the evacuation during an interview with CNN on Tuesday, saying the U.S. had been seeking ways to disembark most the crew for days.
“The problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now, so were having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create some tent-type facilities there,” Modly said.
“We don’t disagree with the C[ommanding] O[fficer],” he added.
The USS Teddy Roosevelt’s carrier group left San Diego in January as part of a regular deployment to the Pacific, but Coronavirus cases were discovered onboard early last week. Some 200 sailors onboard the ship have contracted the virus, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet John Aquilino said Monday evening, though none have yet been hospitalized.
A skeleton crew will remain onboard to carry out necessary functions during disinfection, officials have said. “It’s not the same as a cruise ship,” Modly said Tuesday. “That ship has armaments on it, it has aircraft on it. We have to be able to fight fires if there are fires onboard the ship. We have to run a nuclear power plant.”
Captian Crozier affirmed in his letter to the Navy that his crew remains prepared to go to war with Coronavirus on board if that becomes necessary before disinfection is complete. “There will be losses to the virus.”
The U.S. Defense Department has reported 603 cases of COVID-19 among active duty military as of Tuesday morning. Officials said last week that the Navy has been disproportionately impacted by the virus.