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By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON, April 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy is expected to relieve the commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote a scathing letter that leaked to the public asking the Navy for stronger measures to control a coronavirus outbreak onboard, U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Captain Brett Crozier was being relieved not because he wrote the letter and sent it up through the chain of command but because the Navy believes he leaked it to the media.
One of the officials said a formal announcement could be made as early as Thursday.
Over 100 personnel on the 5,000-person ship have tested positive for the coronavirus so far.
In a four-page letter, Crozier described a bleak situation aboard the nuclear-powered carrier as more sailors tested positive for the virus.
He called for "decisive action": removing over 4,000 sailors from the ship and isolating them. He said that unless the Navy acted immediately, it would be failing to properly safeguard "our most trusted asset - our sailors."
The letter put the Pentagon on the defensive about whether it was doing enough to keep the warship's crew members safe, and alarmed the families of those aboard the vessel, whose home port is in San Diego.
On Wednesday, the Navy declined to rule out punishing the captain of the carrier.
"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 whether the captain faced discipline.
The carrier was in the Pacific when the Navy reported its first coronavirus case a week ago. It has since docked at the U.S. Naval Base Guam on the southern end of the American island territory in the western Pacific. (Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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