Navy report finds major ‘failures’ led to fire on USS Bonhomme Richard

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The fire that destroyed the Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard last year was allowed to burn for days on end due to a series of individual and systemic failures — leading to a crew that was “inadequately prepared” to battle the blaze, an internal investigation by the service has found.

The report on the disaster is expected to be publicly released Wednesday. However, multiple outlets reported Tuesday that the document details widespread lapses in training, coordination, communication, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance and overall command and control.

Most shockingly, the report lists three dozen officers and sailors whose failings either directly led to the ship’s loss or contributed to it.

“Although the fire was started by an act of arson, the ship was lost due to an inability to extinguish the fire,” writes Vice Adm. Scott Conn, former commander of the US 3rd Fleet, according to USNI News. “In the 19 months executing the ship’s maintenance availability, repeated failures allowed for the accumulation of significant risk and an inadequately prepared crew, which led to an ineffective fire response.”

Seaman Ryan Mays, accused of starting the fire, was charged with aggravated arson.
Seaman Ryan Mays, accused of starting the fire, was charged with aggravated arson.
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Vice Admiral Richard Brown headlines those singled out for blame in the report.
Vice Admiral Richard Brown headlines those singled out for blame in the report.
US Navy

The Bonhomme Richard, which was launched in 1997 and formally commissioned the following year, had been nearing the end of a two-year upgrade estimated to cost $250 million when the fire broke out in the ship’s lower storage area on July 12, 2020, at Naval Base San Diego.

Among other issues, the report finds that combustible materials scattered and stored improperly — while 87 percent of the fire stations on board had equipment problems or had not been inspected.

The Navy decommissioned the USS Bonhomme Richard in Nov. 2020.
The Navy decommissioned the USS Bonhomme Richard in Nov. 2020.
U.S. Navy via Getty Images

On the morning the fire broke out, the report says a junior sailor who had finished her watch shift noticed a “hazy, white fog” in the area where the blaze originated, but did not report it “because she did not smell smoke.” In the event, crew members didn’t ring the bells to alert sailors of a fire until 10 minutes after it was discovered, costing crucial response time.

Sailors also failed to activate the firefighting foam system, even though it was accessible and could have slowed the fire’s progress, with the report saying that no one interviewed for the investigation “considered this action or had specific knowledge as to the location of the button or its function.”

A Navy-conducted investigation listed three dozen officers and sailors whose “failings either directly led to the (USS Bonhomme Richard’s) loss or contributed to it.”
A Navy-conducted investigation listed three dozen officers and sailors whose “failings either directly led to the (USS Bonhomme Richard’s) loss or contributed to it.”
AP

Among those singled out for blame by the report are Vice Adm. Richard Brown, a now-retired three-star admiral who headed Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet, as well as the ship’s top three commanders.

Of the Bonhomme Richard’s commanding officer, Capt. Gregory Thoroman, Conn reportedly wrote: “The execution of his duties created an environment of poor training, maintenance and operational standards that directly led to the loss of the ship.”

The report adds that Capt. Michael Ray, the executive officer; Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez; and Capt. David Hart, commander of the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, similarly failed in their responsibilities.

Ryan Mays, 20, has been accused of deliberately setting the blaze. He is charged by the military with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel.

In November 2020, the Navy opted to decommission and scrap the Bonhomme Richard, citing estimates that making the vessel seaworthy again would have taken up to seven years and cost more than $3 billion.

With Post wires

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