Covid-19 outbreaks aboard two US Navy warships in Middle East

One ship returned to the Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain while the other is heading to port

The guided-missile cruiser ‘USS Philippine Sea’ is returning to port after suspected Covid-19 cases onboard, the US Navy said on February 26. US Navy via AP
The guided-missile cruiser ‘USS Philippine Sea’ is returning to port after suspected Covid-19 cases onboard, the US Navy said on February 26. US Navy via AP

Two US Navy warships operating in the Middle East are affected by the coronavirus, with one already docked in Bahrain and another heading to port.

A dozen troops aboard the USS San Diego, an amphibious transport dock, tested positive for the virus, said Cmdr Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet. The ship is at port in Bahrain.

“All positive cases have been isolated on board, and the ship remains in a restricted Covid bubble,” Cmdr Rebarich said. “The port visit and medical support have been co-ordinated with the host nation government and Bahrain Ministry of Health.”

The amphibious transport dock ship ‘USS San Diego’ returned to the Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain after several coronavirus cases were detected onboard. AP
The amphibious transport dock ship ‘USS San Diego’ returned to the Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain after several coronavirus cases were detected onboard. AP

The second ship, the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, has “several persons under investigation” for possible coronavirus infections, Cmdr Rebarich said. 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 about 380 sailors.

The 5th Fleet patrols the waterways of the Middle East. Its vessels often have tense encounters with Iran in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Gulf through which passes 20 per cent of all oil traded worldwide.

The US Navy’s largest outbreak so far in the pandemic was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which had to be isolated 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 was “following an aggressive mitigation strategy”, including masks, social distancing, and proper hand-washing and hygiene measures.

Updated: March 20, 2021 09:38 PM

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