The US Navy has relieved the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier who sounded the alarm about a coronavirus outbreak onboard.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday that Captain Brett Crozier would be replaced with Rear Admiral-select Carlos Sardiello, the ship’s former captain.
“A more agile and a more resilient mentality is necessary up and down the chain of command,” Modly said. “We require commanders with judgment, maturity and leadership composure under pressure to understand the ramifications of their actions within that larger dynamic strategic context.”
Modly said he had “lost confidence” in the captain, who will remain in the Navy, according to officials.
Kelly Magsamen, vice president of national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress and a former senior Pentagon official, said the decision to relieve Crosier was “outrageous” and suggested the captain should be promoted.
“It is yet another unjustified punishment of a whistleblower who went through the proper chain of command to raise concerns,” Magsamen said. “Just one day ago, Navy leadership was praising this captain for raising those concerns. Today, he has been relieved without good cause amid spurious allegations of causing unnecessary panic.”
Earlier this week the Roosevelt’s captain wrote a letter of concern to his superiors urging them to take “decisive action” to prevent deaths from the coronavirus.
The letter was later leaked to the press.
“We are not at war and therefore cannot allow a single sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily,” Crozier wrote in the letter, first obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Navy has been working to evacuate the bulk of the nearly 5,000 sailors aboard the Roosevelt in an effort to clean the ship after a large COVID-19 outbreak.
Modly said more than 110 of the carrier’s sailors had tested positive for the coronavirus.
About 1,000 personnel have been evacuated in Guam, with plans to have about 2,700 removed from the aircraft carrier in the next couple of days.
But Modly stressed on Wednesday that the Navy “cannot and will not remove all sailors from the ship.”
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday said about 1,000 sailors would need to remain on the ship to maintain its “critical functions” and weapons.
The carrier has a nuclear power plant on board, along with munitions and expensive aircraft.