USA warship captain seeks crew isolation as virus spreads

Elias Hubbard
April 1, 2020

The captain of a US aircraft carrier stricken by a COVID-19 outbreak has asked Pentagon leaders to pull most of the 5,000 crew off the ship, saying that adopting proper isolation measures aboard is impossible.

"Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed USA nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure", he wrote. The carrier is now docked in Guam.

The carrier, like other Navy ships, is vulnerable to infectious disease spread given its close quarters - the massive ship is more than 300 metres long, with sailors spread out across a labyrinth of decks, linked by steep ladder-like stairs and narrow corridors.

Officials tell NPR that the aircraft carrier, whose home port is San Diego, now has more than 50 known cases of infected sailors.

"This is a necessary risk", Crozier said.

A Navy official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an evolving situation, said that Crozier had alerted leaders of the military's Pacific Fleet on Sunday to "continuing challenges in isolating the virus", urging the Navy to place more of the ship's crew in facilities that allow for greater isolation.

Crozier enumerated some of the problematic elements of life overseas a carrier: shared bathrooms, shared sleeping quarters, group mealtimes, work tasks that require individuals to remain in close proximity, ladders and other surfaces that are frequently touched as crew move around the ship.

"If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset our sailors", said its Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, in a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

"We are not at war".

Captain Crozier recommended quarantining the entire crew.

"Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR", he adds, "is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care".

In his letter, Crozier said the ship could embark and fight immediately if required. Sailors do not need to die.

Modly told CNN that efforts are underway to help the ship, while also ensuring that the Navy and the USA military continue to protect the country.

The carrier put in to Da Nang port for five days in early March, when the virus was raging in China and more than a dozen cases had been detected in Vietnam.

However, he said, facilities to sequester the afflicted sailors in Guam, which hosts a major United States naval base, are limited.

Modly said the problem is that Guam doesn't have enough beds and they are talking with the government about potential hotel space or "create some tent-type facilities there".

The crisis aboard the Roosevelt played out like a slow-moving disaster and highlights the dangers to the Pentagon if the coronavirus manages to infiltrate some its most important assets, such as bomber fleets, elite Special Operations units and the talisman of US military power, aircraft carriers. "And we're working through it and trying to maintain that proper balance to ensure that our friends and allies, and most importantly our foes and adversaries out there, understand that we are not standing down the watch".

"Due to a warship's inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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