US Navy evacuates sailors from coronavirus-struck aircraft carrier
WASHINGTON: The US Navy is evacuating thousands of sailors from the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in Guam after its captain warned a coronavirus outbreak was threatening the lives of the crew.
There have been 93 Covid-19 cases discovered among the 4,800-strong Roosevelt crew so far, according to the US Navy.
Pentagon officials said on Wednesday that they were rapidly arranging hotel rooms on the Pacific island for many of the personnel, while organising a skeleton team of uninfected sailors to keep the ship operational.
"The plan at this time is to remove as many people off the Teddy Roosevelt as we can, understanding that we have to leave a certain amount of folks on board to perform normal watch-standing duties that keep the ship running," Rear Admiral John Menoni, commander for the Marianas region said.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said almost 1,000 of the crew had been removed, and that that number would rise to 2,700 within a couple of days, and more after that.
But they need to retain around 1,000 on board just to maintain the vessel, as it undergoes a thorough sterilisation.
"We cannot and will not remove all the sailors from the ship," Mr Modly said.
"This ship has weapons on it, it has munitions on it, it has expensive aircraft, and has a nuclear power plant," he said.
Mr Modly admitted it was a challenge for US forces' defence readiness.
However, he added: "If the ship needs to go, if there is a crisis, the ship can go."
Earlier this week, the Roosevelt's Captain Brett Crozier told his superiors the virus was spreading uncontrollably through the ship and called for immediate help to quarantine its crew.
"The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating," Capt Crozier wrote. "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die."
As of Wednesday, more than 1,400 Defence Department employees, contractors and dependants had been infected by the coronavirus, including 771 military personnel, the Pentagon said.
The Roosevelt's docking in Guam on Saturday left both of the Pentagon's western Pacific aircraft carriers in port, with the USS Ronald Reagan berthed in Japan, also reportedly suffering an unknown number of infections. - AFP