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Arson? Sailor Being Investigated for Starting USS Bonhomme Richard Fire

IMAGE: U.S. NAVY

PortandTerminal.com, August 27, 2020

U.S. Navy Sailor under investigation for possibly intentionally starting the devastating fire on Navy ship USS Bonhomme Richard

SAN DIEGO — A U.S. Navy sailor is being questioned by investigators for possible arson after allegedly starting the massive fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego in July, according to defense officials.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has identified the sailor, serving aboard the ship, as the potential suspect that may have started the blaze, a U.S. official said.

The fire started aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard on a Sunday morning and burned for four days.

Wind and explosions spread and intensified the flames, causing extensive damage. Eleven of 14 decks were damaged by fire and water and the ship’s superstructure was nearly gutted, according to a July email from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday to admirals and master chiefs.

About 160 sailors and officers were on board when the flames sent up a huge plume of dark smoke from the 840-foot (256-meter) amphibious assault vessel, which had been docked at Naval Base San Diego while undergoing upgrades.

The amphibious assault ships like USS Bonhomme Richard are among the few in the U.S. fleet that can act as a mini aircraft carrier.

Replacing the warship could cost $4 billion, according to the AP, which cited defense analysts. The Navy is now debating whether it makes sense to keep the large amphibious assault ship in service.

At the time of the fire, the Bonhomme Richard was nearing the end of a two-year upgrade estimated to cost $250 million.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday visited the ship a day after the blaze was extinguished. He said then that the Navy thought it had the fire under control only hours after it broke out the morning of July 12 in the ship’s lower storage area, where cardboard boxes, rags and other maintenance supplies were stored. But winds coming off the San Diego Bay whipped up the flames and the fire spread up the elevator shafts and the exhaust stacks.

Then two explosions — one heard as far as 13 miles (21 kilometres) away — caused it to grow even bigger, Gilday said. The Navy was looking into what caused the explosions, though Gilday said at that time that they had not found any indications yet of foul play.

More than 60 sailors and civilians were treated for minor injuries, heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation as a result of the blaze.

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