Due to COVID Lockdown, USS Stout Sets New Navy Record for Days at Sea
For the second time this year, a U.S. Navy vessel has set a new record for the most time continuously under way. Due to COVID-19 precautionary measures, the destroyer USS Stout hit the 208-day mark while under way in the 5th Fleet area of operations, beating the 207-day record held by the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS San Jacinto - also set earlier this year.
For more than half of her deployment, USS Stout provided maritime security assurance in the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz, monitoring hundreds of merchant vessels. Her crew also conducted the first-ever mid-deployment voyage repair period at sea, according to the Navy, and "executed significant repairs, preservation and preventative maintenance" without coming alongside a pier.
The Navy has taken measures to alleviate the strain of such exceptionally long continuous deployments. Foreign port calls have been largely suspended in order to limit risk, but some vessels have been able to take advantage of "safe haven" liberty calls at Navy-operated piers, allowing the crew to spend time in a controlled and isolated setting on shore. Naval facilities at Guam and Yokosuka have experimented with this model; however, a safe haven call in Guam may have been connected with a small COVID-19 outbreak aboard the carrier USS Ronald Reagan in late August.
Though it may not replace the experience of a port call, vessels continuously deployed can sometimes give their crews "stand-down days" with minimum manning assignments, Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday told NBC. This allows part of the crew to take a day of rest.
“We have to have ships stay at sea another month or so longer as they do their training and instead of taking leave right after training before deployment, they roll right into deployment,” Gilday told the network. “We're not pulling to port as frequently as we had before."
The service began taking greater precautions on COVID-19 prevention after the wave of infections aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in March. Shortly after the carrier called in Vietnam, several Roosevelt crewmembers tested positive for the virus; the numbers rose rapidly, and she pulled into Guam and began testing and quarantining all crewmembers. Ultimately, over 1,100 of Roosevelt's 4,500 sailors tested positive for the disease.