The coronavirus continues to spread on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, putting the 4,865 sailors on board in severe danger. Nonetheless, the Pentagon had repeatedly opposed the idea of evacuating the crew in recent days. Now the first soldiers have left the carrier.

Over the last few days, it had been assessed whether evacuating the carrier was an option. The situation was unprecedented according to the current Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly. A highly sophisticated and nuclear-powered ship could not merely be evacuated entirely, as Modly stated. In addition, the capacity on the Pacific island of Guam, which is where the aircraft carrier is currently anchored, was insufficient. It could not accommodate the thousands of crew members.

How Bad is the Covid-19 Outbreak Onboard?

In total, there are currently over 100 confirmed infections among the Roosevelt’s crew of 4,865, which led the captain of the ship Brett Crozier to launch an appeal to his superiors. In it, he stated that it was an unnecessary risk to keep the 4,865-strong crew on board. Moreover, it was breaking the confidence of the sailors. A quick decision to evacuate the ship and quarantine the crew was therefore needed, Crozier wrote in a letter dated March 30.

Modly, meanwhile, said that US military leadership was very concerned about the situation and was taking all reasonable steps to resolve the situation as best as possible. The entire crew should now be tested, he added. Most importantly, there was no fundamental disagreement with the captain, he said. However, the Navy had only mentioned eight infections on Friday, which appears to be a discrepancy to the now reported 100 confirmed cases.

The situation for the US Navy remains tricky, however. As Crozier also stated in his letter, an evacuation was needed to exclude around 10 percent of the crew, as these individuals would have to remain onboard to ensure the functionality of all systems and to disinfect the ship. The alternative to this was simply that the ship is kept fully operational – even if the ship could not become virus-free and the death of some sailors had to be potentially expected, Crozier concluded.

Is Evacuation Necessary?

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper also responded yesterday, stating that an evacuation of the ship was currently unnecessary during an interview with CBS, particularly as none of the 100 infected people have been seriously ill to date. Besides, supplies and medical support would be provided to the carrier, Esper added.

Esper’s words became obsolete rather quickly when the news broke on Wednesday evening that thousands of crew members are now going to leave the aircraft carrier after all.

How Can an Evacuation be Done?

Modly recently confirmed that around 1,000 crew members have already left the ship, a number that is reportedly set to increase to 2,700 in the coming days.

Approximately 1,000 crew members are going to remain on board the Roosevelt, however, in order to keep the ship running. A complete evacuation was inconceivable due to the weapons, ammunition, expensive aircraft, and a nuclear reactor that is on board the ship, as Modly explained.

Crew members are currently accommodated at the U.S. Naval Base in Guam or, for those for whom a coronavirus infection has been ruled out, in hotels on the Pacific island. The general rule is that no one should be allowed to leave the base unless they have previously tested negative for Covid-19.

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