Personnel currently deployed in the northern Pacific Ocean with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit have tested positive for COVID-19 and are being quarantined on ship, according to a Navy spokesman.
Citing Department of Defense policy, Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a spokesman for the 3rd Fleet where the 15th MEU is current operating, did not say how many Marines or sailors on the ships have tested positive for the potentially deadly disease.
The positive tests have not affected the MEU’s ability to complete its mission, Robertson said in a Tuesday email.
The “15th MEU team has developed an aggressive mitigation strategy to minimize spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of our force,” Robertson said. “The Navy and Marine Corps remain in close coordination with state and federal authorities and public health authorities to ensure the well-being of our personnel."
Personnel who tested positive are quarantined on ship until they can be transferred to shore Robertson added.
“Most” of the personnel who tested positive have already been sent to to shore, Robertson told Marine Corps Times in a Tuesday evening phone call.
Lt. Col. Michael Regner, commander of the unit involved in July’s amphibious assault vehicle accident, was relieved of his job Tuesday.
“Once ashore they will remain in isolation in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines,” he said.
Prior to the deployment kicking off, a training accident involving Marines assigned to the 15th MEU died when the amphibious assault vehicle they were in sank off the California coast.
The AAV was returning to the amphibious transport dock Somerset after conducting a training raid at San Clemente Island, California, when it “rapidly sank” in about 1,500 meters of water with 15 Marines and one sailor on board.
Half the Marines were able to escape the vehicle, but one was pronounced dead on the scene, while two other Marines were rushed to the hospital, Marine Corps Times previously reported. Seven Marines and one sailor still onboard the vehicle perished.
The sinking was the deadliest single training accident in the history of the AAV, Marine Corps Times previously reported.
As a result of the incident, the Marine Corps fired Lt. Col. Michael Regner, the battalion commander for the Marines who died during the incident.
Robertson said the recent outbreak of COVID-19 on the MEU had nothing to do with Regner losing his job.
“Regner’s relief was due to loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command as it related to the ongoing investigation into the Amphibious Vehicle mishap 30 July, 2020,” Robertson said.
“Although the Command Investigation has compiled a substantial amount of information and data--which formed the basis for Lt. Gen. Karsten S. Heckl’s decision--it is still ongoing as the Marine Corps continues to investigate, assess all relevant information, and take appropriate actions,” he added.
This is not the first time military personnel have tested positive for COVID-19 while at sea.
In the spring roughly 25 percent of crew aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt contacted the virus during the carriers deployment, Navy Times reported.
While in mid-October “a small number” of sailors aboard the Theodore Roosevelt once again tested positive, Navy Times reported.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to state that most sick personnel already have been sent to shore.