The United States Navy has dismissed the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, who had raised the alarm about an outbreak of coronavirus on his ship.

Thomas Modly, the acting Secretary of the Navy, said that Captain Brett Crozier had been relieved of his command of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier because he had copied in too many people on an internal memo, in which he urgently appealed for members of his crew who had fallen ill to be allowed to disembark for medical care in Guam.

With 5,000 people onboard including an unconfirmed number who have tested positive for COVID-19, Captain Brett Crozier had made the urgent plea for help to Naval Officials and the Pentagon in an effort to save the lives of his sailors.

The U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt was in the Pacific when the navy reported its first coronavirus case a week ago. It has since pulled into port in Guam, a U.S. island territory in the western Pacific. The four-page letter written by Captain Crozier described a bleak situation onboard the $4.5 billion carrier as more sailors tested positive for the virus.

The carrier lacked enough quarantine and isolation facilities and the current strategy would only slow but not eradicate the highly contagious respiratory virus. In the letter dated March 31, Captain Crozier called for “decisive action” by removing over 4,000 sailors from the Roosevelt and isolating them..

“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,” Crozier wrote.

As of April 2, the Navy said 31% of the USS Theodore Roosevelt crew have been tested for the coronavirus and 114 tested positive. The 180 sailors who tested negative will move into Guam hotels for quarantine. As testing continues, the ship will keep enough sailors on board to sustain essential services and sanitize the ship in port. The ship’s complement is 3,000, or the equivalent of a small American town.

The letter did not say where the sailors would be evacuated to and did say that there would be “challenges” in securing individual accommodation for his crew to safely quarantine themselves for 14 days. The island of Guam, where the carrier is docked, is the hotspot of COVID-19 in the Pacific region and is struggling to deal with the caseload it has.

Guam has 58 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and has had two COVID-19-related deaths. The Pacific Daily News reports that local authorities have been promised more testing kits by the U.S. government and are sourcing others from Asia, but there are fears the island is fast approaching capacity in its hospitals and deaths could increase.

Secretary Modly had said that the Navy was working for several days to get the sailors off the ship in Guam, but the port did not have enough beds. The Navy was in talks with the local government to use hotels and set up tents.

Democrats on the House committee issued a joint statement in support of Crozier. They said that while the captain went outside his chain of command, the pandemic presents a new set of challenges.

“Captain Crozier was justifiably concerned about the health and safety of his crew, but he did not handle the immense pressure appropriately,” the lawmakers said. “However, relieving him of his command is an overreaction.”

United States Navy

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