The U.S. Navy said on Tuesday that it will evacuate the majority of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier’s crew after the ship’s captain wrote to senior Pentagon officials, pleading with them to provide “compliant quarantine rooms” for more than 100 sailors infected with the novel coronavirus. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said on Tuesday that the warship will be disinfected after more than 4,000 crew members disembark. “This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” U.S. Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, who commands the USS Theodore Roosevelt, wrote in the letter earlier on Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. “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.”
Crozier’s letter posed an extraordinary challenge to Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak. Esper, during a month’s worth of briefings, has emphasized the need to maintain military readiness during the public-health emergency. Crozier, whose ship is a critical component of that global U.S. military readiness, is warning that unless the ship ceases its operations and attends to the immediate health needs of its sailors, lives will be lost.
“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,” Crozier wrote. In effect, Crozier’s point is the military analogy to the warnings by epidemiologists against prematurely returning to work and social gatherings in the name of saving the economy. The aircraft carrier is docked in Guam.