By Beyza Binnur Donmez
ANKARA (AA) – The U.S. Navy has relieved the captain of virus-hit aircraft carrier ship USS Theodore Roosevelt after he publicly raised alarm and called for action to stem the spread of coronavirus on board the ship.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told a press briefing in Washington late Thursday that Captain Brett Crozier showed "poor judgment" by sending a letter by email to not only the navy but tens of other people as well.
Not directly accusing Crozier of leaking the letter, Modly said the letter appeared in captain's home town newspaper San Francisco Chronicle — where it was first published.
"I could reach no other conclusion than that Capt. Crozier had allowed the complexity of his challenge with the COVID breakout on his ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally when acting professionally was what was needed most at the time," the chief said. "We do and we should expect more from the commanding officers of our aircraft carriers."
Although the captain did what he thought was "in the best interest of the safety and the well-being of his crew," the letter undermined more senior navy officers and could have emboldened adversaries of the U.S. in the Pacific region, Modly said.
"It creates a panic, and it creates the perception that the navy is not on the job, the government’s not on the job, and it’s just not true," he added.
The U.S. naval chief stressed that all of the sailors who have tested positive, 113 among the 4,800-strong crew, for the virus so far "have had either moderate or mild flu symptoms or no symptoms at all."
He added that the decision to remove Crozier was his, and the captain will soon be replaced by the ship's former commanding officer, Capt. Carlos Sardiello.
At Wednesday's press briefing, Modly had announced that nearly 1,000 sailors had been evacuated from the ship, and the number would rise to 2,700 within a couple of days, responding to Crozier's call of assistance.
"We're not looking to shoot the messenger here," Adm. Michael Gilday, the U.S. Navy's top officer, said, referring to Crozier in the briefing.
In the letter dated Monday, the captain wrote: "Decisive action is required. Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. […] 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."
With more than 245,500 cases, the U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, followed by Italy, Spain, Germany and China, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The death toll is more than 6,000, while over 9,200 have recovered.