- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2020

A criminal inquiry will be part of a multifaceted investigation into a fire that engulfed the USS Bonhomme Richard for more than four days before it was finally contained, the Navy’s senior officer confirmed Friday.

At a press conference in San Diego, Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said the blaze that erupted Sunday morning aboard the amphibious assault ship was greater than any he had seen during his long Navy career.

“As we move forward, there will be thorough investigations that will determine the next steps in a variety of areas,” Adm. Gilday said. “We will follow the facts of what happened here. We’ll be honest with ourselves and we’ll get after it as a Navy.”

The officer said he intends for the investigations into the fire to be made public once completed.

In the aftermath of the fire, the Navy’s fleet commanders issued orders to make sure each piece of equipment aboard their ships is ready, that all sailors are well trained and that shipboard firefighting procedures are adequate and well-rehearsed.

“So we can all learn from this tragedy,” Adm. Gilday said.

A heavy wind coming off the bay and several explosions aboard the ship — including at least one that was heard 13 miles away — were “significant factors” in the spread of the fire, he said.

“The situation was very tenuous,” he said.

On Friday, Adm. Gilday boarded the Bonhomme Richard to examine some of the effects of the fire, going from the flight deck to four decks below.

“I was able to get a good sense of the damage, and the damage was extensive,” he said.

It was clear that the ship sustained extensive structural, mechanical and electrical damage from the fire, Adm. Gilday said.

“The damage is extensive,” he said. “We need to assess [the damage] in much more detail before we make a final determination of next steps.”

The CNO said he was sure the shipbuilding industry could get the Bonhomme Richard back to sea if necessary.

“The question is, should we make that investment in a 22-year-old ship,” Adm. Gilday said. “I’m not going to make any predictions until we take a look at all the facts.”

The criminal inquiry into the Bonhomme Richard will determine if there had been any malfeasance involved. There will also be a safety investigation conducted by Naval Sea Systems Command. A command inspection will ask whether the right procedures were in place and if they were properly acted upon, Adm. Gilday said.

“What did we do right and what did we not do right,” he said.

Technical experts from the shipbuilding industry will examine the extent of the damage aboard the Bonhomme Richard, officials said.

The Navy puts more emphasis on firefighting than any other service because a crew must act as the fire department aboard their ship when at sea. Adm. Gilday said hundreds of sailors from several other Navy ships in San Diego volunteered to help battle the blaze aboard the Bonhomme Richard.

“We had sailors responding in numbers who stayed on the scene for days,” he said. “We had to order many of them home.”

Regardless of whether the Bonhomme Richard ever returns to sea, Adm. Gilday said, the crew acquitted themselves like seasoned sailors.

“We ought to be proud of them,” he said. “If anyone has any doubts about them, it should be put to rest by the heroic and courageous acts of these sailors.”

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