USS Milwaukee Stuck at Guantanamo Bay After COVID Outbreak

USS Milwaukee calls at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, December 20 (USN)

Published Dec 27, 2021 12:50 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee is stuck in port at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay because of a COVID-19 outbreak on board, according to the U.S. Navy. 

Milwaukee is home-ported in Naval Station Mayport in Florida, like other LCS vessels of her class. She got underway from Mayport in mid-December and made a refueling stop in Guantanamo on December 20. The outbreak was detected before she was scheduled to depart Guantanamo for a routine counternarcotics patrol. Milwaukee has a U.S. Coast Guard LEDET boarding team and an aviation detachment on board, as is typical for the mission. 

The 105-member crew is in isolation aboard the vessel, a spokesperson for Southern Command confirmed. The number of infections on board was not released, but the affected individuals are showing mild symptoms, the spokesperson said.

To minimize any risk of spreading the disease to Guantanamo Bay personnel, the crew are confined to the ship and the nearby quay only. Despite the outbreak, the crew made the best of circumstances by holding an outdoor Christmas celebration on the pier on Saturday, according to the New York Times. 

100 percent of the servicemembers on board are fully vaccinated, in line with Navy policy - raising questions about whether the vaccine-resistant omicron variant might be responsible for the outbreak. The Navy leads all branches of the armed forces with its vaccination rate, which currently stands at more than 98 percent; however, it does not currently require its personnel to get a booster shot, which gives additional protection against omicron. The Pentagon is actively discussing the possibility of making booster shots mandatory for all servicemembers, spokesman John Kirby said earlier this month. 

USS Milwaukee was delivered in 2015, and like many of the vessels in her class, she experienced technical challenges early on. On her delivery voyage, Milwaukee suffered a combining gear failure due to clutch slippage off the U.S. East Coast, resulting in complete loss of propulsion. She was towed into port at Little Creek, Virginia for repairs.