The Truman is presently underway in the Western Atlantic, and things are going to stay that way for a while, according to a Monday announcement by the US Navy. The 100,000-ton warship put to sea in December following the completion of emergency electrical repairs for issues that had quickly returned it to port in September.
“The Navy is taking this measure to maintain the strike group’s warfighting capability while ensuring the safety of the crew. The demand for naval assets remains high,” the service said in a news release. The move “allows the ship to maintain a high level of readiness for a potential rapid surge or forward deployment, providing options to the national command authority during this global COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The ship is entering a period in which it needs to be ready to respond and deploy at any time,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the US 2nd Fleet, said in the release. “Normally we can do that pierside, but in the face of COVID-19, we need to protect our most valuable asset, our people, by keeping the ship out to sea.”
Now, however, the ship will keep busy and sharp with advanced training scenarios, similar to the pre-deployment Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) used to certify carrier strike groups for deployment, Lewis told reporters Tuesday, according to USNI News.
The Truman had been sailing home to Norfolk, Virginia, after a tour of duty in the Arabian Sea, Navy Times reported.
‘More Cases to Come’
Service members have tested positive for the coronavirus on four US aircraft carriers - the USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Carl Vinson, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz - although only the Roosevelt was underway, and its raging outbreak has so far been unique. Nearly 600 of the Roosevelt’s roughly 4,000 crew have tested positive for COVID-19, including its former captain, and one crew member has died.
Stars and Stripes noted on Tuesday that the Navy has the highest number of COVID-19 cases of any US service branch, with 1,056 detected so far. Military Times reported 2,557 cases across the entire armed forces, and those cases have shuttered bases across the nation and canceled participation in war games, in addition to forcing the Roosevelt into port in Guam. However, the Nimitz, with its one positive case being found off the ship, still plans to set sail later this month.
James Stavridis, a retired US Navy admiral and former supreme allied commander Europe for NATO, warned last week that “there are more cases to come.”
“The Navy and all the services have some hard choices ahead in terms of whether to pull units off the line to get them well or accept some level of casualties due to the coronavirus. I think it will be a case-by-case approach depending on the mission of the unit,” Stavridis told the Associated Press in an email.
Likewise, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten told reporters on Thursday, “It’s not a good idea to think that the Teddy Roosevelt is a one-of-a-kind issue. We have too many ships at sea. ... To think that it will never happen again is not a good way to plan.”
Cruise Ship Crews Also Stuck At Sea
The Navy’s solution for protecting the Truman’s crew echoes the measures adopted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 both to and from cruise ships.
According to the agency, some 80,000 cruise ship crew members on more than 100 vessels remain anchored off the coast of the United States in obedience of a No Sail Order, which the CDC extended on April 9 for up to 100 days.
Repatriating the crew members has been tough, though, as many larger ships have an international staff as diverse as their passengers.
“Sometimes in a global crisis such as this, caution and fear can take over in some people in some countries, and what would normally be a basic level of human decency to allow these men and women into a port to be able return to their homes,” Roger Frizzell, a senior vice president for cruise company Carnival, told the Washington Post, “yet surprisingly it has been denied by some countries in recent weeks.”