UPDATE 1-U.S. Navy does not rule out punishing captain of carrier who blasted coronavirus response
(New throughout, adds details and background)
WASHINGTON, April 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy on Wednesday did not rule out punishing the captain of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote a scathing letter to Navy leadership asking for stronger measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
In a four-page letter, the contents of which were confirmed by U.S. officials to Reuters on Tuesday, Captain Brett Crozier described a bleak situation onboard the nuclear-powered carrier as more sailors tested positive for the virus.
The letter put the Pentagon on the defensive about whether it was doing enough to keep service members safe and alarmed the families of those aboard the ship. Its home port is San Diego, California.
"I don't know who leaked the letter to the media. That would be something that would violate the principles of good order and discipline, if he were responsible for that. But I don't know that," Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said when asked multiple times if the captain would be punished.
"The fact that he wrote the letter up to his chain of command to express his concerns would absolutely not result in any type of retaliation," Modly said.
In the letter, the captain called for "decisive action" and removing over 4,000 sailors from the ship and isolating them. He said that if the Navy did not act now, it would be failing to properly safeguard "our most trusted asset - our sailors."
"It's disappointing to hear him say that. However, at the same time, I know that that's not the truth," Modly said, adding that he did not agree with the captain that all but 10 percent of the ship's crew could be removed.
The carrier was in the Pacific when the Navy reported its first coronavirus case a week ago. It has since pulled into port in Guam, a U.S. island territory in the western Pacific.
About 1,000 personnel have been taken off from the ship so far and that number will rise to 2,700 in the next few days. So far 93 personnel on the ship have tested positive.
"It's important to understand that just because it's big and it floats and it has a lot of people on it, the comparison of the (Theodore Roosevelt) to a cruise ship pretty much ends there," Modly said.
"This ship has weapons on it. It has munitions on it... It requires a certain number of people on that ship to maintain the safety and security of the ship," he added.
The Roosevelt is just the latest example of the spread of the virus within the U.S. military. Navy officials said sailors onboard a number of ships have tested positive, including an amphibious assault ship at port in San Diego. (Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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