France’s sole aircraft carrier has been incapacitated after more than 1000 of its crew have been found positive to the Coronavirus.
A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle is the flagship of the Marine Nationale, the French Navy. As of Friday, April 17, the French Ministry of Defence stated that 1081 out of the 2300 personnel on board the aircraft carrier have tested positive, which is slightly under 50 percent of total manpower. The afflicted sailors have been quarantined or hospitalized in military installations across France. One sailor is fighting for his life in intensive care.
When the outbreak happened, there were four American Sailors serving onboard the French Navy’s flagship as part of an exchange program. Two of them were tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently being treated in French medical facilities.
French officials are still trying to determine the origin of the first incidents. In the past few weeks, the sole aircraft carrier of the French Navy sailed and stopped in several places. At one point, the ship made a port call in the Atlantic port of Brest, France. It was also involved in a NATO exercise in the North Sea. Additionally, the aircraft carrier stopped by Cyprus while supporting anti-ISIS operations from the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. At some point during these operations and stops, journalists boarded the ship. And French officials are exploring if this might be indeed how the virus got onto the vessel.
Commander Eric Lavault, a French Navy spokesperson, said that it is “very difficult to apply social distancing measures … on a combat vessel [but] security of the crew is the first concern. A combat ship, especially an aircraft carrier, is nothing without its crew.”
The case of Charles de Gaulle depicts the threat that the virus, or indeed a biological weapon, poses to military preparedness. In essence, France has lost its sole aircraft carrier capability for at least a few weeks. In a potential conflict, hours and days can decide the outcome. It also goes to show how correct is the old military adage “one is none, two is one.”
Named after the charismatic and abrasive general and politician Charles de Gaulle, the aircraft carrier has played a key role in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It can carry approximately 40 Dassault Rafale fighters, which they have been supporting Coalition forces since the beginning of the campaign against the terrorist organization in 2015.
France has had over 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 18,000 deaths, making it one of the worst afflicted countries in Europe following Italy and Spain.