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US Navy Carrier Nimitz Sets Sail in Empty Pacific After COVID-19 Puts Fleet in Port

© Flickr / Chief Mass Communication Specialist Grant ProbstThe aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) transits through Puget Sound.
The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) transits through Puget Sound. - Sputnik International
The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Nimitz left port in Puget Sound on Monday, embarking for comprehensive war drills. With all operational Pacific Fleet carriers in port with COVID-19 outbreaks, the only other capital ship sailing the region is China’s Liaoning carrier.

The US Navy announced on Monday that the carrier USS Nimitz had left port in Bremerton, Washington, to embark on a composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) with its strike group. Earlier this month, a crew member was discovered to have COVID-19, and some questioned the wisdom of preparing to put the ship to sea in a pandemic, regardless of whether positive cases were found aboard.

“Dealing with the challenges of the COVID pandemic has been difficult, so I’m very pleased that our mitigation efforts have put us in a position to get underway,” Capt. Max Clark, the 100,000-ton warship’s commanding officer, said in a news release. The bulletin noted that all 8,000 sailors in the carrier strike group had been quarantined for 27 days, as well as tested for the novel coronavirus, prior to any of them setting sail.

“We are all looking forward to training and operating again. I give the crew all the credit. From the beginning, they have done all that I and Navy leadership have asked them to do - face coverings, social distancing, continuous ship sanitization, testing and periods of quarantine; all executed with precision and professionalism. Without their hard work and personal sacrifices, getting this warship out to sea would not have been possible. And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge our Navy families that serve as our bedrock of support,” Clark said.

Sailing with the Nimitz is the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS John Paul Jones, USS Sterett and USS Ralph Johnson, the warships of Destroyer Squadron 9 and the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 17.

With the Nimitz at sea, the carrier USS Harry Truman can finally be allowed to return to port in Norfolk, Virginia, on the opposite side of the country. Although the warship was originally going to return home earlier this month after a long tour of duty in the Middle East, the recent forcing into port of several other US carriers by the emergence of COVID-19 cases demanded the Truman stay at sea “to make sure that we had carrier strike group capability at sea,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said on April 14.

In the Pacific, however, the Nimitz’s strike group will be very much alone. The USS Theodore Roosevelt has been in port in Guam for a month, with 20% of its crew testing positive for COVID-19, and cases on the ported USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson have kept the warships from departing their berths as well. As Sputnik reported earlier this month, the only other carrier operating anywhere in the Pacific at the present is the Chinese Kuznetsov-class carrier Liaoning, which is engaged in training in the South China Sea.

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