HAGATNA (Guam) • About 1,000 sailors from the American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt - or roughly a fifth of its crew - were under quarantine at a United States naval base on Guam yesterday as the Navy sought to control a coronavirus outbreak on board the warship.
The evacuation of sailors from the vessel began on Wednesday, a week after the first coronavirus case was reported on the aircraft carrier, and followed public disclosure of a scathing letter to the US Navy command from the ship's captain urging "decisive action" to control the outbreak.
In his four-page letter, the contents of which were confirmed by US officials to Reuters on Tuesday, Captain Brett Crozier described a bleak situation aboard the nuclear-powered carrier as more sailors tested positive for the virus.
The letter put the Pentagon on the defensive about whether it was doing enough to keep the Theodore Roosevelt's 5,000 crew members safe, and alarmed the families of those on board the vessel, whose home port is in San Diego.
In the letter, the captain called for more than 4,000 sailors to be removed from the ship and isolated, saying the Navy otherwise would be failing to properly safeguard "our most trusted asset - our sailors".
Acting US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said he disagreed with the captain's assertion that all but 10 per cent of the ship's crew could be removed from the vessel if necessary.
"This ship has weapons on it. It has munitions on it... It requires a certain number of people on that ship to maintain the safety and security of the ship," Mr Modly said.
The carrier was in the Pacific when the outbreak started, and has since docked at the US Naval Base Guam, on the southern end of the American island territory in the western Pacific.
An initial group of 1,000 sailors were moved from the ship onto the base on Wednesday, with the Navy saying that 93 personnel had tested positive for the disease so far.
Those testing positive or showing flu-like symptoms were placed in isolation for treatment, while the rest were quarantined, the region's US Navy commander, Rear Admiral John Menoni, said during a news conference on the island yesterday.
Those who remain asymptomatic and test negative will be transported to vacant hotel space about 13km away in Guam's commercial Tumon district, where they will remain quarantined for two weeks, territorial Governor Lourdes Leon Guerrero said.