The Navy has suspended “quality of life” port visits for its ships in the Middle East due to concerns over the coronavirus, a decision that will affect more than 10,000 sailors assigned to Norfolk-based ships.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike groups are operating in the region as part of a stepped up effort to deter Iranian aggression. It’s the first time two U.S. aircraft carriers have simultaneously operated in the region since 2012.
The Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship USS Bataan and its amphibious ready group, which includes a complement of Marines from North Carolina, is also sailing in the area. The Bataan entered the Middle East in January, but it wasn’t immediately clear when its last port visit was.
Port visits are considered vital to crew morale, are the reason some people join the Navy, and are used to build goodwill with host nations. When a U.S. ship pulls into port, it provides a major boost to the local economy and crew members frequently perform community service projects.
The visits are also used to conduct repairs and maintenance, receive parts and supplies, and conduct training.
The Eisenhower left Norfolk in January and hasn’t had a port visit since it left.
The Truman left Norfolk in November, and its most recent port visit was to Duqm, Oman, from Feb. 26 to Feb. 29. That visit included liberty for the crew, according to Fifth Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Josh Frey.
Frey declined to say when the Eisenhower or its escort ships will pull into a port again, but said precautions have been put in place “to reduce the risk to our force and support host nation mitigation efforts with an abundance of caution, while still allowing for an opportunity for our ships to conduct repairs, take on parts and supplies, conduct training evolutions.”
“Out of this abundance of caution for the health of our sailors and coordination with our incredibly supportive regional partners, we have suspended quality of life port visits as of this past week due to COVID-19 concerns.”
Frey declined to specify how many sailors the order affects, but noted it applies to every ship operating in the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet’s area of responsibility. That area includes the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and the Arabian Sea.
An aircraft carrier, including its air wing, typically has a crew of about 5,000, while an amphibious assault ship has a crew of about 1,000 and carries about 1,600 Marines.
With its escort ships, the Eisenhower carrier strike group totals about 7,500 sailors, according to its website. And the Truman group would have a similar number.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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