Coronavirus Hits the World’s Navies

The spread of Coronavirus continues around the world and naval vessels have not been spared. In recent days grave news has come from around the world about crews being infected. With infection spreading and sailors out of action, many vessels are incapable of undertaking military operations.

NAVAL BASE GUAM (April 7, 2020) U.S. Navy Sailors assigned to aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) disembark the ship in preparation to be transported to a local hotel for quarantine. Theodore Roosevelt is in Guam for a scheduled port visit for resupply and crew rest during their scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific. (Staff Sgt. Jordan E. Gilbert)

The outbreak aboard CVN-71 USS Theodore Roosevelt, was closely watched around the world. The outbreak aboard on of the US Navy’s nuclear-powered carriers saw crew responsible for the maintenance of the vessel’s Westinghouse A4W reactors among the infected. With no capability to react to spreading infections Captain Brett Crozier wrote a letter, which became public, asking for the situation to be considered serious and requesting assistance. This decision cost Crozier his position and once the Theodore Roosevelt docked in Guam he was immediately removed from his duties. The crew of the carrier has now been removed and the vessel is being disinfected, while operated by a skeleton crew. Sadly, on 13th April, the first member of Theodore Roosevelt’s crew died due to COVID-19 complications.

The Theodore Roosevelt is not the only US carrier to be effected with cases reported aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz and USS Carl Vinson. The US Department of Defense has since announced they will cease to disclose which vessels have been impacted by the virus amid security concerns.

The confined nature of naval vessels in general and the huge crews of aircraft carriers make them particularly susceptible and another dire situation emerged aboard the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
Out of 2,300 personnel aboard the ship 940 have tested positive, nearly half of the sailors on board. The Charles de Gaulle has returned to port and her crew have been quarantined as the ship is disinfected.

The Russian navy has also reported placing one of its submarines in quarantine. The crew of an Oscar-II class submarine, the Orel, was put in isolation at the end of March due to COVID-19 exposure. Rumors suggest that a second submarine of Oscar-II class boat has also been put in quarantine, due to possible exposure of its crew.

Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) transits to Los Angeles, California, March 27, 2020. The hospital ship deployed in support of the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts, and will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals. This allows shore base hospitals to focus their efforts on COVID-19 cases. One of the Department of Defense’s missions is Defense Support of Civil Authorities. DOD is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, as well as state, local and public health authorities in helping protect the health and safety of the American people. (Cpl. Alexa M. Hernandez)

In Los Angeles, USNS Mercy is battling transmission among its crew. Four members of the vessel have been recently tested positive for COVID-19. With a high rate of infections among hospital staff around the World, the USNS Mercy’s crew is no exception. With exposure among Mercy’s medical staff this may impede the ship’s own efforts to care for patients aboard.

Large navies are not the only ones suffering from outbreaks, others around the world include:

The wider impact on the US Navy’s ability to operate have already been seen, with neither USS Theodore Roosevelt or USS Ronald Reagan at sea China has taken the opportunity to have their Liaoning carrier group patrol within range off Japanese and Taiwanese waters. The Chinese vessels passed through the 155-mile-wide Miyako Strait, between the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Miyako on Saturday, 12th April. The Chinese carrier group then sailed towards Taiwan. With US domination in the Pacific being hampered by outbreaks aboard key vessels the governments in Taipei and Tokyo may find itself in a difficult situation and may have to deal with continued incursions from the Chinese navy.

Time will tell to what extent the world’s navies have been impacted by the pandemic. Crews packed into the confines of vessels are obviously extremely susceptible to being exposed to virus. It is likely that in the future we will see significant changes to procedures and how outbreaks are handled.