By Pierre Tran
Paris – Some 40 sailors on board the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier show signs resembling the coronavirus infection, prompting an early return of the capital ship to Toulon naval base, the armed forces ministry said April 8.
“On board the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier presently deployed in the Atlantic in the Foch mission, around 40 sailors are today under close medical observation,” the ministry said in a statement.
“They show symptoms compatible with a possible infection by Covid-19. These first symptoms recently appeared,” the ministry said. The aircraft carrier had been to arrive April 23 at the naval base in southern France.
The carrier is the nuclear-powered flagship of a task force capable of projecting force around the world.
In the US, acting navy secretary Thomas Modly resigned on Tuesday, following controversy over his criticism of the commander of the Theodore Roosevelt carrier. The former commander, captain Brett Crozier, had sought closer attention for his crew, some of whom were ill with the virus.
“It is not just missiles that can take us down, words can do it too, if we aren’t careful with how and when we use them,” said Modly, Reuters reported.
“It’s my fault. I own it.”
In France, a team was being sent today to the Charles de Gaulle carrier to test the suspected cases and limit the spread of the virus on board, the ministry said. The patients were in isolation confinement and under increased medical supervision. Steps have been taken to protect the rest of the crew.
There is a medical team of some 20 on board the carrier, equipped with facilities including a confinement unit of some 100 beds, ventilators, and scanner. Helicopters could fly patients to a higher level hospital in case the complaint worsened, the ministry said.
Steps had been taken to to protect the crew, seeking to allow the carrier’s operations to continue. Sailors clean the common work areas twice a day, disinfect rails, door handles and taps. Workstations, telephones and shared computers are also disinfected after use.
Crews are reminded on a daily basis of the need for care and preventive measures. The number of meetings has been cut down and gathering in the mess has been limited.
Face masks have been distributed on a preventive basis to crew members showing possible symptoms, such as coughs. These sailors are checked twice a day by medical staff.
The warship sailed out January 21 on the three month Foch mission, which included support for operations in Iraq and Syria. The capital ship was already on its way back to Toulon.
In France, armed forces minister Florence Parly signalled the need for the military and industry to deliver maintenance service to the forces, while observing strict measures in the coronavirus crisis.
Parly visited April 6 the head office of Nexter, a land systems company, and the SIMMT joint maintenance unit for ground weapons, the ministry said. Those visits followed a March 31 visit to the headquarters of Naval Group, a builder of warships and submarines.
“In the Covid-19 crisis, the armed forces minister kept up visits to these organizations to highlight the absolute necessity to maintain industrial activity, both state-backed and private sector, as it is indispensable to allow our armed forces conduct their most essential missions and activities,” the ministry said.
“Overseas and domestic deployments, nuclear deterrent, defense of national airspace and maritime approaches are at the heart of national sovereignty, and the armed forces ministry and industry must not miss the mark,” the ministry said.
In addition to equipment service, Parly also expressed her “gratitude” to work on programs for new equipment.
Arquus, builder of light and medium vehicles, said April 6 work was gradually restarting in four factories, including production for the Griffon multi-role troop carrier in the army’s Scorpion modernization program.
MBDA, a missile maker, gradually reopened April 6 its three French sites, a company spokesman said. Some 300 research and development staff went back to work at the Plessiy Robinson head office, just outside the capital, some 50 production workers and R&D staff at Bourges, and 40 workers at Selles-Saint Denis, central France, he said. A further 100 administrative staff were now working in offices of the three sites, while the rest of the workforce was working from home.
For the French arms manufacturers, there will be talks with clients on the contracts, with attention to the force majeure clause covering events which release the supplier from penalties, an industrial source said.
On the Foch naval mission, France sought to show its military presence in regions seen to be strategically important, namely the North Sea, eastern Mediterranean, and the European side of the Atlantic.
The Charles de Gaulle carried 18 Rafale fighter jets, two Hawkeye spy aircraft, one Caïman anti-submarine and anti-surface helicopter, and two Dauphin Pedro search and recovery helicopters. There was a crew of 1,200, and an 80-strong command of the task force 473.
The carrier sailed out of Toulon January 21, escorted by the Auvergne multi-mission frigate, Chevalier Paul air defense frigate, Var fleet auxiliary ship, and a nuclear-powered attack submarine.
The task force sailed at various times with warships from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain in a bid to boost interoperability.