Navy relieves captain of USS Roosevelt after COVID-19 outbreak aboard ship


(WAVY/AP) — The U.S. Navy relieved Capt. Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt during a Pentagon press conference Thursday.

The aircraft carrier is at the center of a coronavirus outbreak among U.S. sailors.

The Navy also said it would start an investigation into the chain of command and Crozier’s actions.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said Crozier’s removal was “not retribution.”

Crozier was responsible for a leaked letter this week in which he pleaded with officials to take sailors off the ship due to an outbreak of the coronavirus on the carrier, officials said. Weeks after a port call to central Vietnam, nearly 100 Roosevelt sailors tested positive for the deadly virus.

In the leaked memo to Navy leaders, the captain said the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating and that removing all but 10% of the crew is a “necessary risk” in order to stop the spread of the virus. The ship is docked in Guam.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Navy says 114 sailors have tested positive. None are hospitalized. The Navy is also expecting many more sailors — “hundreds” — to test positive as well.

“It raised alarm bell unnecessarily,” Modly said, adding that going to the media also created the impression Navy officials weren’t responding to his concerns about COVID-19 on the Navy vessel.

Officials said they did respond to Crozier’s concerns before news reports published.

“It creates the perception that the Navy is not on the job,” officials said.

Nearly 3,000 sailors aboard the carrier will be taken off the ship by Friday, Navy officials said Wednesday.

Modly, however, made it clear Wednesday 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.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, (D-Virginia) has blasted the Trump administration, saying officials have not been transparent about a crisis within a crisis.

“I need to hear an answer from the Navy on why they are not listening to the commanding officer. We need to make sure that the Navy, and for that matter, all of the DOD is much more transparent, not only about the Teddy Roosevelt but all of the ships that are deployed and all other installations around Virginia and around the country,” said Warner.

On U.S. Navy warships, social distancing is nearly impossible. Sailors work, eat, and sleep in tight spaces. Crozier’s controversial memo offered a grim assessment if space is not found: “Sailors don’t need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset our sailors.”

Warner has other concerns. Since the bombing of the Norfolk-based USS Cole in fall 2000, the Navy has spent millions on improving force protection. Warner wants to know if mistakes were made in assessing the invisible enemy’s threat before the ship’s port visit in central Vietnam.

“You ask a great question, but I don’t have a great answer as to why we were continuing to conduct business as usual when we have seen the spread of this virus. It did originate in that part of the world; those countries were the first affected, and I have not had an adequate answer on why the Navy wasn’t going into a more protective mode earlier on in this crisis,” said Warner.

Warner says the Department of Defense has not been transparent in explaining how the virus has affected troops and their families around the world.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel issued the following statement after the Navy’s announcement Thursday, “While we understand the need for discipline in the military, the summary dismissal from command of Navy Capt. Brett Crozier should send a chill down the spine of every American who values the First Amendment. Speaking out earnestly on a grave matter of health and safety for the sailors under his command in the midst of a life-threatening pandemic was an act of conscience and compassion. To be penalized for that is shameful. The navy’s action today demonstrates that this administration’s ‘shoot the messenger’ approach to handling its own failings has now taken hold in the U.S. military as well. Our leaders have lost sight of the fact that there are values higher in this country than the preservation of their reputations.”

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