A dozen sailors serving aboard the USS Chafee, a Navy destroyer homeported in Pearl Harbor, have tested positive for the coronavirus while the ship was in San Diego for a training exercise.

Navy officials said the infected soldiers were off the ship and in quarantine, along with several people who had close contact with them.

The U.S. Third Fleet said all sailors on board the ship also will be tested as a precaution.

“The ship remains able to meet its mission,” Third Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson told Civil Beat Friday in an e-mailed statement. “No Chafee sailors have been hospitalized and all positives are in isolation in accordance with the U.S. Pacific Fleet guidelines.”

The Chafee is a Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer with a crew of about 300.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee is underway in the Pacific Ocean during Rim of the Pacific 2010. RIMPAC is a biennial, multinational exercise designed to strengthen regional partnerships and improve multinational interoperability.
Twelve members of the Pearl Harbor based USS Chafee have tested positive for COVID-19. U.S. Navy/2010

The outbreak was first reported on Wednesday by the Navy Times, which interviewed several sailors on the ship and obtained internal documents from the ship showing several crew members had either tested positive or were in close contact with someone who had. That included 11 culinary workers.

The ship’s galley has been shut down for more than a week and food was being delivered to the ship from the base. Commanders also ordered the ship’s gym closed and sailors weren’t allowed to go onto the pier where they’re docked, the report said.

The Chafee was in California to participate in Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training or SWATT, during which many of the crew members were getting certified for combat operations and deployments. Some crew members told the Navy Times they believed that higher-ups were prioritizing SWATT over the crew’s well-being.

“I’ve had a few conversations with the engineers and at this point people are scared we won’t be able to get back to Hawaii based on the command and most likely Big Navy pushing us to certify,” one chief petty officer said.

Another was quoted as saying that “the morale is like nothing I’ve ever seen on board. Sailors on board are just defeated and don’t know what to do.”

The spokesman did not say when Chafee and its crew will return to Hawaii.

In November, about a quarter of the crew on the Pearl Harbor-based USS Michael Murphy, another Arleigh Burke, tested positive for the virus. The entire crew was taken offboard and quarantined while the ship was sanitized. It has since returned to duty.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet has tried to maintain regular training and deployments amid tensions throughout the pandemic.

Over the summer the Pacific Fleet went forward with its biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise — the largest naval war game in the world. The 2020 iteration of RIMPAC met heightened local opposition from residents and Honolulu lawmakers concerned that the exercise would lead to an outbreak in Hawaii.

RIMPAC 2020 was intended to be the largest yet, but it was heavily reduced in size and scale with all training held at sea and no sailors coming ashore. No cases were reported during the exercise.

It’s unclear how many of Hawaii’s infections are currently associated with the military.

When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March, commanders in Hawaii began giving public updates on infections on bases until the Pentagon ordered them to stop. Since then the military shared its data with Hawaii’s Department of Health, which includes them in state totals.

However, those numbers have not been withheld consistently in the Pacific, with U.S. military numbers available in Guam, Japan and Korea.

We need your help.

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom that provides free content with no paywall. That means readership growth alone can’t sustain our journalism.

We need those of you who value our journalism to support it.

There is no better time to support our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author