U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John C. “Lung” Aquilino has directed all vessels visiting nations in the 7th Fleet area of operations “to remain at sea for at least 14 days before pulling into another port in order to monitor sailors for any symptoms" of COVID-19, a new and deadly strain of the coronavirus.
Aquilino’s unclassified Wednesday order is part of a larger Navy effort to control the spread of a disease that emerged in China’s Wuhan City last year and now has been detected in 37 locations internationally, including cases in the United States.
On Tuesday, a U.S. soldier stationed in South Korea became the first service member to test positive for the virus but Navy officials insist no personnel in the sea service have shown signs of the disease.
Previous Pacific Fleet directives have included instructions on how to detect the disease in crews and the steps medical teams should take to treat the illness and prevent its outbreak.
The latest measure is designed to better protect the force while also safeguarding allies, partners and friends of the United States from potential infection.
Based in Japan, the 7th Fleet is the largest of the Navy’s numbered fleets, with up to 80 warships and submarines operating within an area of responsibility that extends from the International Dateline to the borders of India and Pakistan and south to Antarctica.
That adds up to 36 maritime nations that contain more than half of the world’s population.
Nations in the 7th Fleet AOR that have recorded COVID-19 cases include Japan, Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
Commands assigned to the 7th Fleet annually engage in more than 100 bilateral and multilateral exercises and ships schedule more than 200 port calls.
Wednesday’s directive applies only to afloat units. It takes into account the vast distances across the Pacific and Indian oceans vessels must travel, which should make the 14-day underway order easy to enforce.
Crews and embarked Marines likely to be affected by the new order include the 7th Fleet flagship Blue Ridge, the amphibious assault ship America and the dock landing ship Green Bay, which recently arrived in Thailand to participate in Exercise Cobra Gold.
There’s no expiration date on the Pacific Fleet’s mandate, but officials will continue to monitor the coronavirus outbreak and tailor directives to address it.
Reached by Navy Times in Hawaii, Pacific Fleet officials declined to speak on the record about the new measures but pushed back at concerns the order was tantamount to a quarantine.
Last March, Bahrain-based 5th Fleet officials also bristled at the q-word when asked about the dock landing ship Fort McHenry, which had been forced to ply the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and other waters for three months, avoiding port and direct contact with international training partners after an on board outbreak of viral parotitis.
An infection that triggers symptoms similar to mumps, with fever, dehydration and chills, it had been detected in about 3.5 percent of the sailors and Marines on board the Florida-based warship.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.