WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 3,000 sailors aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier where the coronavirus has spread will be taken off the ship by Friday, Navy officials said Wednesday as they struggle to quarantine crew members in the face of an outbreak.
So far, fewer than 100 of the nearly 5,000 sailors assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, now docked in Guam, have tested positive for the virus, but the Navy is moving sailors into various facilities and probably will begin using hotel rooms in the coming days. Navy leaders are talking with government officials in the U.S. territory to identify rooms for the crew members.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, however, made it clear that while several thousand will leave the ship, other sailors will remain on board in order to continue to protect the ship and run critical systems.
“We cannot and will not remove all sailors from the ship,” Modly told Pentagon reporters. He said officials will send as many sailors off the ship as possible while still maintaining safety. He said about 1,000 have gone ashore, and that number will grow to at least 2,700 in a couple of days.
Modly and Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, declined to say how long the ship will be sidelined. But if crew members are required to quarantine for 14 days, on a rotational basis, the Roosevelt could be out of duty for weeks.
Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, the carrier's commander, raised warnings this week in a memo to his leaders. He said the ship was facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus and he asked permission to isolate the bulk of his crew members on shore, an extraordinary move to take a carrier out of duty in an effort to save lives.
A descendant of the ship’s namesake also urged for the crew to be quickly removed from the ship.
“Members of the Roosevelt family and I are extremely concerned about the plight of the sailors and captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt,” Tweed Roosevelt, a great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt and chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Institute at Long Island University, wrote in an email Wednesday. “We must get these brave men and women off at once to protect their lives and the future viability of the ship.”
In a memo to Navy leaders over the weekend, Crozier said the spread of the disease was accelerating and that removing all but 10% of the crew would be a “necessary risk” in order to stop the spread of the virus.
“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," said Crozier.
U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino told reporters on Tuesday that the Navy was working to get as many sailors as possible on shore whilel maintaining a core crew to monitor the nuclear reactors and keep the ship running. He said the pace may not be as fast as the commander would like, but it would be done on a rotation, with sailors staying on shore in isolation for 14 days before returning to the ship virus-free so that others can go ashore.
In Asia, a carrier presence is central to what the Pentagon has identified as a fundamental shift from fighting insurgent and extremist conflicts in the Middle East to a return to “great power competition." That means, principally, a bigger focus on China, including its militarization of disputed areas of the South China Sea.