French Carrier Heading Home Early Amid Suspicion of COVID-19 Outbreak

April 8, 2020 8:11 AM
FS Charles de Gaulle (R91) deploying on Jan. 21, 2020 from Touloun, France. French Navy Photo

The French Navy (Marine Nationale) aircraft carrier and flagship Charles de Gaulle (R91) is heading home early following suspicion of several COVID-19 cases among its crew members. About forty sailors may be infected with COVID-19, according to a French Ministry of the Armed Forces press release issued on Wednesday.

“On board the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle currently deployed in the Atlantic as part of the mission Foch, around forty sailors are today under close medical observation. They are showing symptoms consistent with possible COVID-19 infection. These first symptoms have appeared recently,” read the statement.

The aircraft carrier has been deployed on “Mission Foch” since January. The carrier is sailing in the Atlantic Ocean and was already on its way back to the Mediterranean. Charles de Gaulle‘s home port is Toulon Naval Base in Southern France.

The French Navy decided to anticipate the return of the aircraft carrier to Toulon, originally scheduled for April 23. A screening team with test equipment will be dispatched to the aircraft carrier today. They will investigate the cases and prevent the spread of the virus aboard the ship.

Sailors showing the symptoms are placed in isolated confinement, as a precaution vis-à-vis the rest of the crew. No worsening was seen in these patients. Everything is currently being done to ensure the safety of crew members.

Charles de Gaulle has robust capabilities to support and monitor the progress of the situation:

  • 1 medical platform with a medical team consisting of about twenty caregivers (doctors, nurses, surgeons);
  • Dedicated facilities: 1 hospital room with a dozen beds, respirators, 1 scanner; as well as a containment space with a capacity of about one hundred places to isolate and monitor patients;
  • Means of evacuation via helicopters, one short notice, to a hospital on land (if needed).

The organization on board the carrier has been adapted to continue the mission while ensuring the health of sailors. Precautionary measures have also been strengthened and continue to be strictly enforced:

  • The sailors of the aircraft carrier clean the common areas twice a day, paying particular attention to the disinfection of ramps / handles / taps and by disinfecting shared workstations, telephones and computers after each use;
  • The number of meetings and participants has been reduced, gatherings in certain living spaces have been limited.
  • Masks are distributed as a preventive measure to all personnel who may show symptoms (cough in particular). These personnel are monitored twice a day by medical personnel;

Charles de Gaulle’s crew complement consists of about 2000 sailors.

At least one case of COVID-19 contamination was reported in March aboard Belgian Navy frigate Léopold 1er during its deployment with the French carrier strike group. The vessel has since returned to its home port of Zeebrugge.

U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) reported an outbreak in late March, which led to the controversial removal of its commanding officer, followed by the resignation of the U.S. acting secretary of the Navy yesterday.

Cases among Russian submarines crews have been reported as well.

A version of this post originally appeared on Naval News. It’s been republished here with permission.

Xavier Vavasseur

Xavier Vavasseur

Xavier Vavasseur is the editor of Naval News based in Paris, France. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems and a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology (FIT). Xavier has been covering naval defense topics for nearly a decade.

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