The captain of an aircraft carrier that has been dealing with a severe coronavirus outbreak has been relieved from command after a letter he penned pleading for help leaked to the media.
Capt. Brett Crozier was relieved from command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced on Thursday.
“Today, at my direction, the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Brett Crozier, was relieved of command,” Modly told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday. “I did not come to this decision lightly.”
Crozier wrote a letter to Navy leaders that was obtained and published by the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, in which he warned of dire consequences if most of the sailors on Roosevelt aren’t evacuated.
As of Wednesday, 93 sailors of the 4,800-crew on board the Roosevelt had tested positive for COVID-19. The ship has been docked in Guam since last week while the entire crew is tested for the virus.
In his letter, Crozier begged the Navy for permission to evacuate all but 10 percent of the crew from the Roosevelt, where he said it was impossible to properly isolate and quarantine sailors to stop a growing coronavirus outbreak.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”
Modly said Wednesday he would not rule out punishment for Crozier over the letter, but said it would be a matter of who gave it to the media over the letter itself.
“I don’t know who leaked the letter to the media. That would be something that would violate the principles of good order and discipline, if he were responsible for that. But I don’t know that,” he said.
“The fact that he wrote the letter up to his chain of command to express his concerns would absolutely not result in any type of retaliation,” Modly added.
Modly also called Crozier’s comment on the Navy not taking care of its sailors “disappointing,” adding, “I know that that’s not the truth.”
“We need those sailors to be safe, we need them to be healthy, and we need that ship to be operational, and so we’re doing everything we can,” Modly said.