The U.S. Navy on Thursday relieved Captain Brett Crozier of his duty on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, after the captain pleaded help with containing a coronavirus outbreak on board the ship.
"Today at my direction the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier, was relieved of command by carrier strike group commander Rear Admiral Stewart Baker," Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said during a press briefing at the Department of Defense.
Crozier sent an internal letter to the Navy's Pacific Fleet earlier this week reporting to officials about an outbreak of COVID-19 on board the Roosevelt, and requested the Pentagon to provide additional resources for sailors under his command who he believed needed to be quarantined - particularly those infected.
"This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do," Crozier wrote in the letter first obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. "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."
Modly told reporters that Crozier's removal was not related to whether he leaked the internal memo, but because he allowed "the complexity of his challenge with the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally when acting professionally was what was needed the most at the time."
"I have no information nor am I trying to suggest that he leaked the information. It was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. It all came as a big surprise to all of us that it was in the paper and that's the first time I had seen it," Modly said.
"What I will say, he sent it out pretty broadly and in sending it out broadly he did not take care to ensure that it couldn't be leaked and that's part of his responsibility in my opinion," he added.
Carrying roughly 5,000 sailors and now docking in Guam, the Roosevelt had 93 positive test results for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, more than 1,000 people had left the ship, and a total of 2,700 people are expected to disembark the ship. The remainder of the crew will stay on board to maintain the ship's operation.
Nearly 1,300 people aboard the ship have been tested, Modly said Wednesday at a news briefing, adding some results are still pending.
Navy officials initially believed a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam, between late February and early March might be related to the spread of the coronavirus among the crew members, but Navy Admiral Michael Gilday downplayed that hypothesis Wednesday at the briefing.
"We don't have any forensics to indicate" that the stop in Da Nang caused the virus' spread on the ship, Gilday said. All of the crew were tested for symptoms before returning to the ship, he added.
"Understanding who patient zero is is probably going to be an impossible task," the admiral said, citing the reason that sailors leave and board the ship frequently during its deployments.