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Investigators Look for Answers After Massive Fire On US Navy Warship



USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) | Investigators Look for Answers After Massive Fire On US Navy Warship | Featured

Investigators from the U.S. Navy are looking into a major fire that swept through an amphibious assault ship while it was docked in San Diego.

The USS Bonhomme Richard was undergoing routine maintenance at a naval base on Sunday when Navy personnel suddenly heard explosions. At around 8:30 AM PST, crews discovered a fire burning below decks in one of the staging areas of the ship. The fire eventually engulfed most of the ship. It burned for several days before firefighters managed to bring it under control on Thursday. Now, investigators are trying to determine how such an aggressive fire could spread through a strategically-important naval ship while it was docked in a secure harbor.

The Search Continues

Navy personnel are still searching the 40,000-ton ship for additional hotspots. However, Naval officials who toured the vessel on Thursday noted extensive damage to the ship and its skin. However, they stopped short of providing a detailed report on the damage in light of the ongoing investigation. “We do not know the extent of the damage… We cannot make any conclusions until the investigation is complete,” said Rear Adm. Philip E. Sobeck.

Some early reports indicate that the ship might’ve suffered irreparable damage. If they can save the ship, the repair costs will likely run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. However, decommissioning the ship will also be a costly strategic option. It will take years to build a replacement for the USS Bonhomme Richard. Also, the US will become deprived of a major strategic asset while it waits. The ship is only a handful of US Navy vessels that can launch F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. Therefore, its operational capabilities are akin to a mini-aircraft carrier.

More than 400 sailors battled the 1,200-degree blaze with assistance from federal firefighters. By the time responders brought the fire under control, 40 sailors and 23 civilians had already sustained injuries. Most of their injuries came as a result of heat exposure and smoke inhalation. Fortunately, no one died in the blaze and no one sustained life-threatening injuries.

Fire's Origins Remain Unknown

Now, it remains for investigators to find out how the horrific blaze started. They’re also especially curious about why the fire burned so aggressively. Standard naval procedures call for sailors and fire crews to standby while the ship is undergoing maintenance in case something goes wrong. Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the Wall Street Journal that something about the fire felt fishy. “This should have been completely preventable because the Navy is supposed to have good practices for stowage aboard ships,” he said. “If a fire breaks out, the Navy should be able to fight it immediately.”

The navy hasn’t made any official announcements indicating that they suspect foul play. However, it may be possible, and there is a long list of potential suspects. One of America’s long-time adversaries, Iran, has reported several instances of fires at key strategic sites over the past several weeks, and state-run media is speculating that the fires are the result of American or Israeli sabotage. Just this week, seven ships caught fire at the Bushehr seaport in Iran just days after the USS Bonhomme Richard fire broke out on Sunday. The timing of the tit-for-tat fires and recent acts of sabotage in Iran is at least coincidental from a purely speculative perspective.

Was Foul Play Involved?

However, if sabotage played a role in the fire, the suspect pool doesn’t end with enemies from abroad. Growing unrest in the US has emboldened some domestic groups with radical revolutionary agendas, and it’s possible that subversive domestic elements may have played a hand in the blaze.

At this point, this is pure speculation. The San Diego port is a secure naval facility, so a potential perpetrator would need inside access to the ship in order to pull off the arson. Investigators don’t know what caused the fire, and they won’t release a report until they have more information. However, many experts have noted that the fire was unusually aggressive and insatiable. Hopefully, the probe determines the fire was accidental, but investigators aren’t ruling anything out.

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