The captain of the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, in a blunt letter confirmed to Reuters on Tuesday, has called on Navy leadership for stronger measures to save the lives of his sailors and stop the spread of the coronavirus aboard the ship.
The four-page letter, the contents of which were confirmed by U.S. officials to Reuters, described a bleak situation on board the nuclear-powered, 5,000-person carrier as more and more sailors test positive for the virus.
The letter was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Captain Brett Crozier, the ship’s commanding officer, wrote that the carrier lacked enough quarantine and isolation facilities and warned the current strategy would slow but fail to eradicate the virus.
In the March 30 letter, he called for “decisive action” and removing over 4,000 sailors from the ship and isolating them.
“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 wrote.
The carrier was in the Pacific when the Navy reported its first coronavirus case a week ago. It has since pulled into port in Guam, a U.S. island territory in the western Pacific.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said he heard about Crozier's letter that morning, with Navy commanders "aware of this for about 24 hours."
Modly said the Navy is working to move sailors off the ship. "The problem is that Guam doesn't have enough beds right now, and so we're having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create some tent-type facilities there," Modly said.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has previously said she received assurances from Joint Region Marianas that the sailors would remain isolated and on base away from the civilian population.
“Navy leadership is moving quickly to take all necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of the crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt,” a Navy official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that nearly 80 people aboard the ship had tested positive for the virus, a number likely to increase as all personnel on the ship are tested.
Still, the Navy declined to confirm exactly how many people aboard the Roosevelt have been infected.
Reuters first reported last week that the U.S. military has decided it will stop providing some of the more granular data about coronavirus infections within its ranks, citing concern that the information might be used by adversaries as the virus spreads.