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Carrier Captain Pleads for the Lives of His Sailors

The San Francisco Chronicle has obtained a remarkable letter from the captain of the Theodore Roosevelt, the aircraft carrier that is currently sidelined because of a large outbreak of coronavirus among the crew:

The captain of a nuclear aircraft carrier with more than 100 sailors infected with the coronavirus pleaded Monday with U.S. Navy officials for resources to allow isolation of his entire crew and avoid possible deaths in a situation he described as quickly deteriorating.

The unusual plea from Capt. Brett Crozier, a Santa Rosa native, came in a letter obtained exclusively by The Chronicle and confirmed by a senior officer on board the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which has been docked in Guam following a COVID-19 outbreak among the crew of more than 4,000 less than a week ago.

“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Crozier wrote. “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.”

According to the report, the letter says that only a small number of infected sailors have been taken off the ship, and that it is impossible to practice social distancing in the confines of the ship with thousands of sailors aboard. As a result, the virus continues to spread among the crew. The captain says that the spread is “ongoing and accelerating.” He is asking the Navy to allow the majority of the crew to disembark and be placed in quarantine on Guam:

“Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. … This is a necessary risk,” Crozier wrote. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

The captain is pleading for the lives of his sailors, which he believes will be put at unacceptable and unnecessary risk if they remain on the ship:

In his letter to top Navy command, Crozier said if it was operating in wartime, the ship would cope and continue operations and battle the illness as best it could.

“However, we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single Sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily,” Crozier wrote. “Decisive action is required now in order to comply with CDC and (Navy) guidance and prevent tragic outcomes.”

The report says that the captain compared the carrier’s outbreak to the one on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and he argued that the spread of the virus on the carrier would likely be even worse because it isn’t possible to isolate infected sailors in the same way as the cruise ship did with passengers.

This is an extraordinary letter, and it is to the captain’s credit that he is putting the welfare of his crew ahead of any other considerations. The request he is making is unusual, but then so is the situation on the carrier. The Theodore Roosevelt is not the only carrier that has infected sailors on board. Another report this week said that the Ronald Reagan, currently deployed to Japan, also has a small outbreak, and that could conceivably require a similar solution of evacuating most of the crew. The pandemic has the potential to hobble the U.S. naval presence in the Pacific for the next several months. Regardless, the captain’s request should be honored and the sailors should be taken off the ship before the virus can spread any further.

Update: The Navy has approved the captain’s request, and most of the crew will be evacuated from the carrier:

The U.S. Navy says it will remove the vast majority of USS Theodore Roosevelt’s crew so the aircraft carrier can be disinfected, one day after its commanding officer sent an urgent message asking for help controlling a COVID-19 outbreak.

Second Update: The Secretary of Defense has contradicted earlier reports that the crew would be evacuated and dismissed the letter:

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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