Two US Navy warships in Mideast affected by coronavirus

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Two United States (US) Navy warships operating in the Mideast have been affected by the coronavirus, authorities said yesterday, with one already at port in Bahrain and another heading to port now.

A dozen troops aboard the USS San Diego, an amphibious transport dock, tested positive for COVID-19, said spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet Commander Rebecca Rebarich.

The ship is at port in Bahrain.

“All positive cases have been isolated on board, and the ship remains in a restricted COVID-19 bubble,” Rebarich told The Associated Press (AP).

“The port visit and medical support have been coordinated with the host nation government and Bahrain Ministry of Health.”

The second ship, the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, has “several persons under investigation” for possible coronavirus infections, Rebarich said.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea leaves Naval Station Mayport in Mayport, Florida. PHOTO: AP

The ship is expected to pull into port for further testing at a location she declined to name, citing “operational security”.

The San Diego sails with nearly 600 sailors and Marines aboard, while the Philippine Sea carries some 380 sailors.

The Fifth Fleet patrols the waterways of the Mideast.

Its vessels often have tense encounters with Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Gulf through which 20 per cent of all oil traded worldwide passes.

The Navy’s largest outbreak so far in the pandemic was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which had to be sidelined in Guam for nearly two months last year. More than 1,000 sailors tested positive and one died.

Eventually all of the 4,800 crew members were sent ashore in Guam for weeks of quarantine, in a systematic progression that kept enough sailors on the ship to keep it secure and running.

The failure of the ship’s leaders to properly handle the outbreak exploded into one of the biggest military leadership crises in recent years.

The ship’s captain, who pleaded for faster action to protect his crew from the rapidly spreading virus, was fired and the one-star admiral on the ship had his promotion delayed.

Earlier this month, three sailors tested positive as the aircraft carrier was conducting operations in the Pacific.

The sailors and those exposed to them were isolated, and the Navy said it is “following an aggressive mitigation strategy”, including masks, social distancing, and proper handwashing and hygiene measures.