Secretary of the Navy fires the commanding officer of CVN-71 USS Theodore Roosevelt

The US Navy has fired the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier stuck in port and dealing with a severe coronavirus outbreak, Navy leaders said Thursday afternoon.

“Today, at my direction, the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Brett Crozier, was relieved of command,” acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday. “I did not come to this decision lightly.”

The decision comes after Crozier wrote a letter to Navy leadership begging the Navy to take decisive action to counter the spread of the virus on the carrier by getting sailors off the ship as soon as possible. The letter leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, the captain’s hometown newspaper, which published the commanding officer’s letter Tuesday.

“The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating,” the CO wrote in the letter. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.” As of Wednesday, 93 sailors aboard the TR had tested positive for the coronavirus.

After the letter leaked to the press, the Navy revealed that it was already taking steps to evacuate the ship. Around 1,000 sailors have already gone ashore. That number is expected to increase to 2,700 within the next few days.

Modly expressed disappointment on Wednesday with some of the things the captain wrote but stressed that the fact that Crozier “wrote the letter up to his chain of command to express his concerns would absolutely not result in any type of retaliation.”

He did, however, note that leaking a letter to the media “would be something that would violate good order and discipline.” Modly said Thursday, without directly accusing the captain of leaking the letter, that the CO allowed the letter to be distributed outside the chain of command.

“I could reach no other conclusion that Capt. Crozier had allowed the complexity of his challenge with the COVID outbreak on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally, when acting professionally was what was neededm most” the acting secretary said. “I have no doubt in my mind that Capt. Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest and well being of his crew,” Modly said. “Unfortunately, it did the opposite.”