WASHINGTON • The captain of the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt told the Pentagon that the coronavirus is spreading uncontrollably through his ship and called for immediate help to quarantine its crew.
But Defence Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday ruled out evacuating the ship, whose plight bears similarities to that on civilian cruise ships where the virus also spread.
In a four-page letter, Captain Brett Crozier wrote that they had not been able to stem the spread of Covid-19 through the crew of 4,000, describing a dire situation aboard the vessel now docked at Guam, a United States territory in the Pacific.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Capt Crozier wrote, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published a copy of the letter on Tuesday.
“The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating,” he wrote, referring to the ship’s “inherent limitations of space”.
The captain asked to be able to quarantine nearly the entire crew onshore at Guam, saying keeping them all on board the ship was an “unnecessary risk”. There is little opportunity for “social distancing”, which US civilians have been told to practise, among the cramped passageways and sleeping quarters of an aircraft carrier.
“Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed US nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure,” he said. “This is a necessary risk.”
Asked on the CBS Evening News whether it was time for an evacuation, Mr Esper said: “I don’t think we’re at that point.”
He added that supplies and medical assistance are being moved out to the Theodore Roosevelt.
He added that “none of them are seriously ill” and the Navy is “trying to make sure that we contain the virus, that we deploy testing kits”. He added: “We get a good assessment of how much of the crew is infected.”
The Chronicle said more than 100 on board the warship had been confirmed infected with the virus, around four times the figures given last Friday. Capt Crozier asked in the letter for quarantine facilities for the entire crew on Guam.
The US Navy did not confirm the contents of the letter, which were also reported by The New York Times.
In a statement, a Navy official said under condition of anonymity that Capt Crozier had alerted his Pacific Fleet leaders on Sunday of the problems on board the carrier.
Some speculated that the infection could have begun with a port stop in Vietnam by the Theodore Roosevelt. The carrier was in Da Nang port for five days early last month, when the virus was raging in China and more than a dozen cases had been detected in Vietnam.