Defence Minister Dismisses as "Irresponsible" Allegations that Decision to Quarantine Bulgarian Marines Meant to Sabotage NATO Naval Exercise
Sofia, March 4 (BTA) - Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov
Thursday dismissed as "irresponsible" accusations that a
decision to quarantine Bulgarian marines due to COVID-19 meant
to sabotage a NATO exercise. "The allegations that Bulgaria
sabotaged a NATO exercise by not participating in Poseidon 21,
are irresponsible," he said here Thursday. He was speaking on
the sidelines of a two-day conference under the Bulgarian Chief
of Defence which opened Thursday.
The "sabotage" comments came after the Defence Ministry
announced February 28 that it had been decided to put into
quarantine the Bulgarian crews which trained for the Poseidon 21
exercise in the Black Sea because COVID-19 cases had been
confirmed on two Bulgarian Navy ships. The Ministry argued that
a possible spread of COVID would stymie the achievement of the
objectives of the naval exercise.
Poseidon is an annual mine countermeasures drill hosted in
rotation by Romania and Bulgaria since 2002. In addition to
Bulgarian and Romanian ships, Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures
Group Two also participates in the exercise.
Two minesweepers were designated to participate in Poseidon this
year and their crew was tested ones, the results came back
negative, the crew was quarantined and tested again two days
before the quarantine was due to end, and five crew members
tested positive on one ship and six on the other, Karakachanov
and Chief of Defence Admiral Emil Eftimov explained. Eftimov
proposed that Bulgaria cuts short its participation in Poseidon
this year because "the health and life of the crew is a top
priority for us", to use his words.
Karakachanov said that such a decision was not unprecedented and
that Bulgaria could join in at a later stage of the exercise.
Admiral Eftimov added that the decision was in line with the
NATO practice of taking adequate action where there is the
slightest risk for the health and life of service persons. He
expressed hope that Bulgaria will be able to join the exercise
in mid-March. NV/LN/