WASHINGTON: The US naval commander whose widely publicised plea for help for his coronavirus-affected crew led to his dismissal has reportedly himself tested positive for the disease.

Captain Brett Crozier’s Covid-19 test result was reported by the New York Times, just hours after US Defence Secretary Mark Esper defended the captain’s firing.

Esper told ABC that Navy Secretary Thomas Modly had “made a tough decision, tough call” in deciding to fire Crozier from his command of the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt, now docked in Guam.

Asked about a report that President Donald Trump wanted Crozier fired, Esper replied, “This was the secretary’s call. He came and briefed me ... It was the secretary’s call. I told him I would support it.”

Acting US Navy chief says the fired captain may have been ‘stupid’

The firing was widely condemned as a callous and unfair punishment of a respected officer who was looking out for the welfare of his crew when he implored his superiors to let him quickly vacate the ship after it docked in Guam. “We are not at war,” Crozier wrote in a letter that leaked to the press.

“Sailors do not need to die.” But some senior Pentagon officials said Crozier erred by letting his plea go public.

Acting US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly gave a surprise speech to the crew of the coronavirus-stricken carrier Theodore Roosevelt and defended his decision to fire their revered captain, calling him either “stupid” or ill-willed, US officials said.

One of the officials said Modly’s comments angered the crew, who were already upset at his surprise decision on Thursday to relieve Captain Brett Crozier of his command of the Theodore Roosevelt.

The crew applauded Crozier when he was forced out following the leak of his scathing letter calling for the Navy to take stronger action to halt the spread of the coronavirus aboard the carrier.

President Donald Trump has also been criticised for the decision to relieve Crozier of command. Democrats in Congress have called for an investigation by the Pentagon’s independent Inspector General, while Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden said Modly “shot the messenger.”

A US official confirmed that Modly explained his decision to relieve the captain of command, saying:

“If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out to the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this.”

“The alternative is that he did this on purpose.” The officials said Modly made the speech over the weekend while the ship was docked in Guam, and it was broadcast on the ship’s speakers.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2020