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Navy relieves Cmdr. of aircraft carrier hit by coronavirus after letter leaks to media pleading for off-ship quarantine

An F/A-18F Super Hornet, assigned to the “Black Knights” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 154, launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) March 18, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas V. Huynh)
April 02, 2020

The U.S. Navy is relieving Cpt. Brett Crozier of his duties as commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, according to a new report.

Crozier had written a letter to the Navy pleading for help in isolating his crew amid a coronavirus outbreak board the aircraft carrier. U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity said the Navy was not relieving Crozier over the letter itself, but because they believe he leaked it to the media.

Also citing U.S. officials, the Wall Street Journal later reported Crozier was relieved on Thursday due to a loss in confidence in his leadership ability.

Nearly 100 of almost 5,000 crew members aboard the carrier had tested positive for coronavirus, sending the entire warship into lockdown at sea.

Crozier’s four-page letter had urged superiors to grant him permission to dock the carrier at a port in Guam and quarantine the crew on land.

“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Crozier wrote in the letter, which was reported by San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday. “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.”

Crozer noted that offboarding was essential to prevent the spread of the virus because social distancing aboard the carrier isn’t feasible.

“Due to a warship’s inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this,” Crozier wrote. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”

“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.”

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly later said he was aware of the letter, and the Navy was considering accommodations for the crew. Modly added that Guam did not have enough space to quarantine the crew on land.

“We don’t disagree with the (captain) on that ship and we’re doing it in a very methodical way because it’s not the same as a cruise ship, that ship has armaments on it, it has aircraft on it, we have to be able to fight fires if there are fires on board the ship, we have to run a nuclear power plant, so there’s a lot of things that we have to do on that ship that make it a little bit different and unique but we’re managing it and we’re working through it,” Modly had said.

Guam’s Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said on Wednesday that she would allow the sailors to be quarantined in vacant hotels on land if they did not have coronavirus.

Modly said on Wednesday afternoon that 1,000 crew members were already evacuated from the ship, and a total of 2,700 were expected to be removed over the next few days, according to CNN.