WASHINGTON — Navy will launch a full investigation of the coronavirus outbreak aboard an aircraft carrier, acting Navy secretary James McPherson said Wednesday, days after the service’s top officer recommended the reinstatement of a captain who raised concerns about the handling of the issue.
McPherson said Wednesday that after carefully reviewing a preliminary inquiry into what happened, he has “unanswered questions” that “can only be answered by 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,” McPherson said in a statement.
The statement did detail McPherson’s questions, and Navy officials did not offer clarification Wednesday morning. It was not immediately clear who will lead the investigation for Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations.
The outbreak on the ship in the Pacific had resulted in 940 active coronavirus cases and 29 recovered cases among a crew of more than 4,800 as of Thursday, the Navy said. The virus began spreading after a port visit to Vietnam in early March, though Navy officials have said it could have originated with a resupply flight to the carrier.
As the outbreak spread through the crew last month, Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, the commanding officer, sent an email to three admirals with a memo attached raising concerns as the ship arrived in Guam for quarantining, testing and cleaning.
“I fully realize that I bear responsibility for not demanding more decisive action the moment we pulled in, but at this point my only priority is the continued well-being of the crew and embarked staff,” Crozier wrote in the March 30 email, later obtained by The Washington Post. ” … I believe if there is ever a time to ask for help it is now regardless of the impact on my career.”
The memo attached to the email leaked to the media and was initially published in the San Francisco Chronicle a day later. Crozier wrote in it that “decisive action is required.”
“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.”
Acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly removed Crozier from his job April 2, saying the captain had not safeguarded his message to senior Navy officials and had shown poor judgment. Modly resigned on April 7, after traveling from Washington to Guam and delivering a speech over the Theodore Roosevelt’s loudspeaker in which he insulted Crozier and lectured the crew for supporting him.
Gilday recommended that Crozier be reinstated last week, following the preliminary inquiry. But McPherson and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper sought more information before making a decision.
President Donald Trump initially criticized Crozier for sending the memo and email to Navy officials but softened his tone when videos emerged showing the ship’s crew cheering Crozier off the ship after he was relieved of command. Trump said he did not “want to destroy somebody for having a bad day,” and that he might intervene in the case.