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Trump says supports firing coronavirus-stricken carrier captain

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-04-05 19:23
Captain Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, addresses the crew in San Diego, California, Jan 17, 2020. [File photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump said Saturday that he supported the ousting of Brett Crozier, captain of aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which has been hit by a COVID-19 outbreak.

Trump told reporters at the White House that Crozier's internal letter pleading help from his superiors to contain the virus' spread on the nuclear-powered vessel "looked terrible."

"He wrote a letter. A five-page letter from a captain. And the letter was all over the place. That's not appropriate, I don't think that's appropriate," Trump said.

In the letter Crozier sent to the Navy's Pacific Fleet earlier this week, the captain asked the Pentagon to facilitate in moving 90 percent of the crew into isolation for two weeks on Guam, otherwise "we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors."

"Decisive action is required. Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed US nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure," the letter read. "Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care."

Now docking in Guam, the Roosevelt has 155 positive cases as of Saturday, up 13 percent within 24 hours, and 44 percent of the roughly 5,000 crew have been tested, according the Navy.

The Navy planned to transfer a total of 2,700 sailors onto Guam, leaving the rest of the crew on board to maintain the operation of the ship. As of Saturday, 1,548 service members have been evacuated and none of those infected with the disease have been hospitalized, the Navy said.

Navy officials initially believed a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam, between late February and early March might be related to the spread of the coronavirus among the crew members, but Navy Admiral Michael Gilday downplayed that hypothesis at a briefing on Wednesday.

"We don't have any forensics to indicate" that the stop in Da Nang caused the virus' spread on the ship, Gilday said, adding that all crew members were tested for symptoms before returning to the ship.

"Understanding who patient zero is probably going to be an impossible task," the admiral said, citing the reason that sailors leave and board the ship frequently during its deployments.

Trump, however, chided Crozier for the port call. "Perhaps you don't do that in the middle of a pandemic," Trump said. "History would say you don't necessarily stop and let your sailors get off," he said at the White House briefing on Saturday.

Crozier received standing ovation from a large crowd of sailors under his command when disembarking the ship Friday. They chanted his name repeatedly in chorus while clapping hands.

Also on Friday, Senate Democrats called for a formal investigation into the Navy's response to the virus outbreak as well as its decision to remove the captain, while Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden hailed Crozier as being "faithful to his duty."

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