- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Navy has filed criminal charges against a sailor in connection with the July 12, 2020 fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, which raged for several days in San Diego and forced the Navy to scrap the ship.

The sailor, who has not been identified, was a member of the crew at the time and is accused of starting the fire, said Commander Sean Robertson, a spokesman for the Navy‘s 3rd Fleet.

“Evidence collected during the investigation is sufficient to direct a preliminary hearing in accordance with due process under the military justice system,” Commander Robertson said in a statement.

The Military Times on Thursday reported that the sailor was a seaman apprentice and faces charges of aggravated arson and hazarding of a vessel under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, commander of the 3rd Fleet, is considering court-martial charges and ordered a preliminary hearing. It will recommend whether there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed and to offer a recommendation as to how the case should go forward, officials said.

The 22-year-old Bonhomme Richard had been in a San Diego shipyard for more than a year when the fire broke out. It was going through upgrades in order to accommodate the F-35B joint strike fighter.

Flames tore through the ship during the four days it burned. Navy officials said the  flight deck and hangar deck were both heavily damaged by the high temperatures from the flames, most likely beyond any hope of reasonable repair. Also damaged were the areas used for storing munitions and fuel. 

The Navy ultimately decided that repairing the Bonhomme Richard and getting it back out to sea was simply an insurmountable obstacle. More than half of the ship would have had to have been replaced outright. It would have cost more than $3 billion and taken several years to fully repair, Navy officials said.

The cost to decommission the ship would take about $30 million and could be done in several months. The Bonhomme Richard was eventually towed to a Texas scrapyard in the Gulf Coast.

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