Politics

Navy's top civilian calls for deeper investigation into coronavirus outbreak on aircraft carrier

Key Points
  • The Navy's top civilian is calling for another investigation into the events surrounding the coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.
  • Last week, the Navy's top officials recommended that Brett Crozier, the captain relieved of duty after sounding the alarm about a growing coronavirus outbreak aboard the vessel, should be reinstated. 
Captain Brett Crozier addresses the crew for the first time as commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt during a change of command ceremony on the ship's flight deck in San Diego, California, U.S. November 1, 2019.
U.S. Navy | Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sean Lynch | Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Navy's top civilian is calling for another investigation into events surrounding the coronavirus outbreak on an aircraft carrier, which led to the dismissal of its captain, who had pleaded for help, and the resignation of the former acting secretary of the Navy.

Upon reviewing the findings of the investigation into the USS Theodore Roosevelt and Capt. Brett Crozier, the newly tapped acting secretary of the Navy said he had "unanswered questions" and would, therefore, need "a deeper review."

"This investigation will build on the good work of the initial inquiry to provide a more fulsome understanding of the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt," acting Secretary of the Navy James McPherson wrote in a statement. 

The latest twist comes on the heels of the Navy's recommendation last week that Crozier, who sounded the alarm about a growing coronavirus outbreak aboard the carrier, should be reinstated to his command. 

At the time, the decision to reinstate Crozier's command of the Roosevelt sat with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. The Pentagon boss, who was briefed on the recommendations following the Navy investigation, requested more time to review the findings. 

The secondary investigation is the latest development in a messy string of events that resulted in the resignation of acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly. 

Crozier was relieved of duty by Modly after the captain's letter pleading for help to mitigate the spread of the virus aboard the aircraft carrier was leaked to the media. Modly then took a 35-hour trip, which cost taxpayers $243,000, to address the crew of the Roosevelt. 

In the address, delivered via the ship's loudspeaker, Modly doubled down on his decision to relieve Crozier and called the former vessel's captain "naive" and "stupid." Hours later Modly issued an apology to the Navy.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly speaks at a Pentagon press briefing, Washington, D.C., April 2, 2020.
Lisa Ferdinando | Department of Defense

"I also want to apologize directly to Captain Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of the Theodore Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused," he said in a statement April 6. 

A day later, Modly handed in his resignation to Esper, who then announced that he had tapped McPherson, undersecretary of the Army, to be the new acting Navy secretary.

'Sailors do not need to die'

In a four-page letter, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle in late March, Crozier described a worsening coronavirus outbreak aboard the warship, a temporary home to more than 4,000 crew members. At the time, more than 100 people on the ship were infected.

"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 spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating."

Captain Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, addresses the crew during an all-hands call on the ship's flight deck in the eastern Pacific Ocean December 19, 2019.
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Huynh | US Navy

The coronavirus exposure aboard the Roosevelt, which is docked in Guam, followed a recently completed port call to Da Nang, Vietnam. 

Fifteen days after leaving Vietnam, three sailors from the Roosevelt tested positive for the virus. The infections were the first reports of the coronavirus on a U.S. Navy vessel at sea.

As of Wednesday, all crew members of the Roosevelt have been tested for the coronavirus. With the majority of the crew now healthy, efforts are underway to test and re-man the ship. One sailor remains in the hospital for Covid-19 symptoms and one sailor assigned to the vessel died.

Crozier, who contracted the virus, was in the distinguished visitors quarter at a Navy base in Guam, according to a report, where he awaited confirmation that he no longer had the virus.

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Aircraft carrier captain sends plea for help after 100 sailors infected with coronavirus