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Navy to scrap USS Bonhomme Richard after days-long fire

The Hill logo The Hill 11/30/2020 Ellen Mitchell
a small boat in a body of water with smoke coming out of it: Navy to scrap USS Bonhomme Richard after days-long fire © Getty Images Navy to scrap USS Bonhomme Richard after days-long fire

The Navy will scrap the USS Bonhomme Richard after a fire burned aboard the amphibious assault ship for nearly five days in July and rendered it unsalvageable, the service announced Monday.

After "thorough consideration," the Navy has decided to decommission the ship "due to the extensive damage" from the blaze, the service said in a statement.

"We did not come to this decision lightly," Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said in the release. "Following an extensive material assessment in which various courses of action were considered and evaluated, we came to the conclusion that it is not fiscally responsible to restore her."

The Navy estimated that repairing the ship could cost more than $3 billion and take between five and seven years, a price tag and timeline that service leaders did not find feasible.

A separate plan to rebuild the ship for another purpose was also deemed a no-go, as it could cost more than $1 billion, as much as or more than a newly built hospital ship, submarine tender or command-and-control vessel.

The Navy is still investigating the cause of the fire that began as the ship was in the port at Naval Base San Diego.

It is known that the fire first broke out in a lower cargo area where cardboard and drywall supplies were kept. The small aircraft carrier that transports Marines was undergoing maintenance at the shipyard when the blaze began, which made the fire suppression system inoperable at the time.

About 40 sailors and 23 civilians were treated for minor injuries, including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, after hundreds of sailors and federal firefighters battled the flames from inside and outside the ship.

Service leaders directly after the fire expressed optimism that the ship would sail again.

But after reviewing the vessel, Navy officials found that about 60 percent of it would need to be completely replaced, Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage told reporters on a conference call Monday, as reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Ver Hage said Navy leaders just before Thanksgiving made the decision to decommission the ship. They briefed Congress on the decision Monday, he added.

To decommission and scrap the ship will cost the Navy about $30 million and take between nine months and one year, Ver Hage noted.

The timeline for towing and dismantling the ship is still being finalized, and the Navy will try to salvage any systems and components to use in other ships.

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