Top Navy official: Damage ‘extensive’ from USS Bonhomme Richard fire, future to be determined

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SAN DIEGO – A top U.S. Navy official who toured the USS Bonhomme Richard on Friday called the damage from the recent days-long fire aboard the warship “extensive” and questioned whether the Navy should invest funding to get the 22-year-old vessel back in service.

In a news conference at Naval Base San Diego, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said he wanted to see firsthand the extent of the damage from the fire, which broke out Sunday and continued burning through the week until crews extinguished it Thursday afternoon.

The 41,000-ton ship now is stable, according to Gilday. But the result of the blaze has more than left its mark with electrical, mechanical and structural damage, he said.

The four-star admiral said Navy officials now are planning an investigation to determine the future of the ship, including deciding if it’s possible — or practical — to make necessary repairs.

“They’ll be making that determination, this last assessment, on what the next steps for whether we repair or whether we don’t,” he said.

If the ship is deemed un-salvageable, one estimate places the cost to replace the USS Bonhomme Richard at $4 billion. The ship had been nearing the end of a multi-year upgrade estimated to have cost some $250 million.

A total of 40 sailors and 23 civilian firefighters were treated for minor injuries from the fire.

Gilday noted that it “couldn’t have been in a worse point on the ship,” allowing flames to spread up elevator shafts and into the superstructure. Firefighters also were challenged in contending with the winds in San Diego Harbor.

He said the incident has been a “gut punch” to the ship’s sailors.

“These sailors are home and they identifying with that ship, right?” he said, gesturing to a hat with the ship’s name emblazoned on it. “These ballcaps, they mean something. The names of those ships mean something to those sailors.

“This is their home; this is where they’re going to fight from if they have to go to sea.”

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