Over 1,000 Sailors From Carrier Charles de Gaulle Test Positive

The Charles de Gaulle (file image)

Published Apr 17, 2020 11:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

1,081 out of the 2,000-plus sailors aboard the French carrier Charles de Gaulle have tested positive for COVID-19, defense minister Florence Parly confirmed Friday - roughly half of the crew. The number represents a substantial jump: the French Navy identified 40 suspected cases last week, and initial test results released April 10 identified 50 confirmed cases on board. 

The Charles de Gaulle returned to her base in Toulon earlier this week for disembarkation and disinfection, and that process continues. The French Navy is conducting a forensic investigation and interviewing crewmembers in an attempt to determine the source of the outbreak. Before her return, Charles de Gaulle had called in Cyprus and Brest, and she had been in contact with other NATO vessels during an exercise in the North Sea. Her call in Brest occurred just before France initiated a full nationwide lockdown. 

The number of crewmembers with influenza-like symptoms began to take off on April 5, spokesman Cmdr. Eric Lavault told the AP. At that point in her voyage, Charles de Gaulle was operating in cold temperatures in the North Sea, in circumstances that would be expected to foster ordinary colds. “It’s from this date that the commander decided to alert Navy headquarters to propose ending the operation, a decision taken immediately by the [defense] minister,” Lavault said. Charles de Gaulle departed the exercise ten days early and returned to port, arriving in Toulon on Sunday. 

The French Navy expects that the carrier will be out of service for cleaning and disinfection until May. 

Four U.S. Navy sailors who were on board the Charles de Gaulle for an exchange program have been quarantined in France. Two have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The U.S. Navy has experienced similar challenges, with outbreaks of varying size on four carriers - the USS Ronald Reagan (at Yokosuka), USS Nimitz (at Bremerton), USS Carl Vinson (at Bremerton) and USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is alongside at Naval Base Guam with more than 600 confirmed cases.