Covid cluster breaks out on naval ship in Gulf of Aden
A cluster of Covid-19 infections broke out on a Navy destroyer dispatched to the Gulf of Aden in eastern Africa, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) on Thursday.
The ship, named Munmu the Great, departed as part of the Navy Cheonghae unit’s peacekeeping and anti-piracy mission in the area in February -- before vaccinations for military personnel began in Korea.
According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a naval officer who showed symptoms of pneumonia was transported to a hospital in a nearby country. Six people aboard the ship who were in close contact with the officer tested positive for Covid-19.
The officer, who was charged with overseeing the loading of military supplies from nearby ports until the end of June, has not yet been tested for Covid-19, but will reportedly undergo a test soon. He is said to not be in critical condition.
A JCS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “Although around 40 people [in the fleet] reported cold-like symptoms on July 10, none of them tested positive for Covid-19. X-ray examinations also revealed no pneumonia symptoms.”
However, as a precaution, 80 crewmembers aboard the Munmu the Great are in group isolation. The official said the JCS is negotiating with local authorities to secure polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for the crew in isolation as well as others aboard.
The total number of Navy servicemen on board the Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin-class 4,400-ton destroyer is 300.
Despite isolation of some members of the crew, there is a high chance that the number of infections will rise.
Not only are there many enclosed spaces inside the destroyer, but ventilation conduits inside the ship are all interconnected.
This is not the first time that a cluster has broken out on a Navy ship. An outbreak of Covid-19 aboard the amphibious landing ship Go Jun Bong led to the infection of 38 crewmembers aboard in April.
Servicemen are vulnerable to the virus as they spend most of their time in close contact with each other.
In March 2020, an outbreak of Covid-19 aboard the nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt forced the ship to dock in Guam and evacuate 4,069 crewmembers, of which eventually 969 individuals tested positive.
Should the number of infections rise aboard the Munmu the Great, the Cheonghae unit could be similarly forced to abandon its mission and sail back to Korea to get treatment for the crew.
The Cheonghae unit has been on anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's coast since 2009, and it recently expanded the mission area to include the Strait of Hormuz.
The Munmu the Great destroyer arrived in the region in March to relieve the Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin-class Choe Yeong destroyer.
At a Thursday meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Moon Jae-in ordered the dispatch of refueling aircraft, disease control personnel, medical personnel and equipment to the ship as quickly as possible, according to Blue House spokeswoman Park Kyung-mi.
Moon also called for prompt evacuation of crewmembers to Korea if local conditions for treatment were not adequate, as well as vigilance to prevent similar incidents from occurring in other naval units.
BY MICHAEL LEE, LEE CHEOL-JAE [firstname.lastname@example.org]