COVID-19: Navy captain fired for requesting crew quarantine

USS Roosevelt. Credit: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alex Millar/US Navy

The captain of a US warship has been relieved of duty after sending an email to a group of Navy leaders airing his frustrations at the slow emergency response to aid crew that had tested positive for COVID-19 aboard the vessel.

After a shore stopover in Da Nang, Vietnam, on 4 March, several crew of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Roosevelt, started showing symptoms of COVID-19 and subsequently tested positive for the disease at sea. It is not known how many crew members were affected by the virus at sea.

The USS Roosevelt was diverted to Guam, where the vessel docked for crew testing to be carried out. However, captain Brett Crozier said in the email he had grown frustrated at the situation, especially as only a small contingent of infected crew were disembarked. For those who remained onboard, following the official 14-day quarantine guidelines in tight quarters was impossible, he pointed out in the email, and that he feared further spread of infection.

On 30 March Crozier wrote an email to his superiors and other Navy leaders stating that the entire ship should be disembarked, with the 4,800 crew members being quarantined in separate rooms, and the vessel thoroughly disinfected.

“Decisive action is required,” wrote Crozier. “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.”

The email was then leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle on 31 March.

Crozier was relieved of his command by acting navy secretary Thomas Modly, who told press he should not have sent a “blast out” email to so many recipients and there was “a proper way of handling” the captain’s concerns.

“The letter was sent over non-secure, unclassified email even though that ship possesses some of the most sophisticated communications and encryption equipment in the fleet,” said Modly.

On 3 April, an estimated 3,000 crew members were disembarked from the vessel where they will be quarantined for 14 days in vacant hotels in Guam. As of 5 April, more than 150 crew members aboard the USS Roosevelt have tested positive for COVID-19, including Crozier.