The U.S. Navy is opening a broad new inquiry into the firing of aircraft carrier commander Capt. Brett Crozier, thus delaying the decision on his reinstatement.
“After carefully reviewing the preliminary inquiry into the events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, provided me with his recommendations. Following our discussion, I have unanswered questions that the preliminary inquiry has identified and that can only be answered by a deeper review,” said a statement from Acting Navy Secretary James McPherson on Wednesday morning.
“Therefore, I am directing Adm. Gilday to conduct a follow-on command investigation. This investigation will build on the good work of the initial inquiry to provide a more fulsome understanding of the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt,” McPherson’s statement added.
Crozier was fired from his command of USS Theodore Roosevelt on April 2 after a letter to his chain of command pleading for help to contain the coronavirus outbreak aboard the carrier had leaked to the media days earlier.
The Navy had concluded its preliminary investigation on Friday and McPherson, along with chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, had delivered their formal recommendation to reinstate Capt. Crozier to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Esper asked for more time to make a decision, which came as a surprise to Navy officials. An announcement was expected Friday, but Esper instead requested a written report.
“After the Secretary receives a written copy of the completed inquiry, he intends to thoroughly review the report and will meet again with Navy leadership to discuss next steps,” Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman said in a statement on Friday.
Esper has previously stated publicly that he was “open” to reinstating Crozier, depending on the results of the investigation.
A total of 940 sailors of nearly 5,000 aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for coronavirus as of Tuesday. More than 4,000 sailors who tested negative and were moved ashore in Guam have begun returning to the carrier on Wednesday in preparation for redeployment, the Navy said in a release.
The carrier had arrived in Guam on March 27 and offloaded most of its crew. It has since undergone extensive cleaning and disinfecting efforts while infected sailors were treated at Naval Hospital Guam, and those not infected were quarantined in vacant hotels.
One sailor died April 13 of coronavirus after he was found unresponsive in his quarters and spent several days in the intensive care unit.