2 American Sailors Among 668 in French Strike Group to Test Positive for Coronavirus

The French aircraft carrier FS Charles De Gaulle (R91) transits the Red Sea
The French Marine Nationale aircraft carrier FS Charles De Gaulle (R91) transits the Red Sea on April 15, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joshua L. Leonard)

Two U.S. sailors are among the 668 crew members assigned to a French navy strike group who have tested positive for coronavirus, the French and U.S. navies announced Wednesday.

The two were part of a team of four U.S. sailors embedded on the French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle as part of the Navy's personnel exchange program, according to the service's most recent daily coronavirus update.

The de Gaulle leads the strike group, which includes multiple frigates, a command and refueling vessel, and a nuclear-powered attack submarine, according to a Jan. 23 USNI News report.

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"As part of the [personnel exchange program], sailors are integrated into the French crew in all daily operations, which include medical care, if needed," according to the U.S. Navy update.

The ill U.S. sailors are being treated with "excellent host nation medical care at French facilities," according to the update.

"We are confident that our Sailors are in good hands," it added.

The French navy said "the great majority" of the 668 positive tests for the virus are among sailors aboard the de Gaulle, according to a statement Thursday. Of the sailors who tested positive, 31 are hospitalized. The statement did not specify the other French ships affected by the virus.

The 668 number is a stark jump from last week, when France's Armed Forces Ministry in a tweet April 10 announced 50 de Gaulle sailors had tested positive for the coronavirus. Three of those sailors were evacuated "as a precaution, by plane, and transferred to a hospital in France," according to a translation of the message.

The outbreak prompted the de Gaulle and its strike group to return early to their Toulon, France, homeport April 13, the ministry said in a tweet Thursday. The ship had been deployed since January and "had already achieved its operation objectives" when the decision was made to return to port, according to a translation of the message.

Teams are working to disinfect the ships and aircraft, and the remaining sailors are being tested, the ministry said in the Thursday tweet.

About 2,000 sailors are assigned to the carrier. The de Gaulle is the only non-U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the world.

All de Gaulle sailors are undergoing a 14-day quarantine at the French naval bases in Toulon, according to the French navy statement.

The U.S. Navy in its Wednesday coronavirus update said it is "working closely with our NATO Ally to fight against the virus."

"We look forward to continued operations with the Charles de Gaulle and the French Navy in the future," it said.

The de Gaulle outbreak mimicked that of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which was sidelined at Guam on March 26 after eight sailors on the ship tested positive for the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, that number had grown to 615 positive cases, according to the Navy update.

Read more: The Latest on the Military's COVID-19 Response

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