WASHINGTON — The Navy’s top civilian is calling for further investigation of the events surrounding the coronavirus outbreak on an aircraft carrier, leading to the dismissal of its captain, who had pleaded for assistance, and the resignation of the former acting Navy Secretary.
After reviewing the findings of the investigation into the USS Theodore Roosevelt and Capt. Brett Crozier, the newly appointed Navy acting secretary said he had “unanswered questions” and would thus 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,” Navy Secretary James McPherson said.
The new twist comes at the heels of the Navy’s recommendation last week that Crozier, who sounded the alarm of a that coronavirus outbreak on board the carrier, should be returned to his command.
At the time, the decision to reintroduce Crozier’s command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt was with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. The Pentagon chief, who was briefed on the recommendations of the Navy investigation, requested more time to review the findings.
The secondary inquiry 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 a letter from the captain pleading for assistance in alleviating the spread of the virus on board the aircraft carrier had leaked to the media. Modly then took a 35-hour trip, costing taxpayers $243,000, to address the Roosevelt crew.
At the address delivered through the ship’s loudspeaker, Modly doubled his decision to replace Crozier and called the former ship’s captain “naive” and “stupid.” Hours later Modly apologised to the Navy.
“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 that in a statement on 6 April.
A day later, Modly handed over his resignation to Esper, who then revealed that he had tapped James McPherson, Undersecretary of the Army, as the new acting Navy Secretary.
In a four-page letter, first published by the San Francisco Chronicle at the end of March, Crozier described a worsening coronavirus outbreak on board the warship, a temporary home for more than 4,000 crew members. At the time, more than 100 people were infected on the ship.
Crozier wrote, “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,” adding, “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”
Coronavirus exposure aboard Roosevelt, which is docked in Guam, was followed by a recently completed port call to Da Nang, Vietnam.
Fifteen days after leaving Vietnam, three Roosevelt sailors tested positive for the virus. Infections were the first cases of coronavirus infection in the U.S. Marine vessel at sea.
As of Wednesday, both Roosevelt crew members had been tested for coronavirus. With most of the crew now in good health, efforts are underway to check and re-manage the ship. One sailor remains in the hospital for symptoms of Covid-19, 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 assurance that he no longer had the virus.