The US Navy has fired the captain of an aircraft carrier who sounded the alarm after his ship was hit by an escalating outbreak of coronavirus and urged his superiors to remove sailors from the vessel.
Captain Brett Crozier, the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, wrote to his superiors saying that sailors’ lives were at risk.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote in a letter published by American media.
News of Captain Crozier’s removal came after a US defence official told CNN that 114 sailors on the carrier had been confirmed to have the coronavirus.
That represents more than 10 per cent of all cases across the US military.
But the outbreak on the ship is escalating rapidly. Last week the Pentagon confirmed three sailors on board had tested positive.
Two days later that number had risen to 25, while it rose to 70 on Tuesday and had topped 100 by Thursday.
The military did not accuse Captain Crozier of leaking the letter but Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said it was distributed “broadly”.
Pentagon officials confirmed Captain Crozier was being relieved of his duty. They said he had gone outside the chain of command and speculated he might have been overwhelmed by the situation.
“I just know that he exercised extremely poor judgment,” acting US Navy secretary Thomas Modly said.
Mr Modly called Captain Crozier’s note, which reportedly went to up to 30 people and was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, “a blast-out email to everyone he knows”.
“Decisive action is required,” Captain Crozier wrote.
“Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed US nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. This is a necessary risk.”
The USS Theodore Roosevelt is now in port at Guam. About 1000 sailors have been evacuated from the aircraft carrier and are in quarantine in hotels on the Pacific Island.
However, officials have continued to downplay the severity of the situation, saying the coronavirus cases on board were mild.
Admiral Gilday said the ship could not be entirely evacuated because some crew was needed to perform essential tasks such as operating its nuclear reactor.