The chief of naval operations Friday lauded “heroic” efforts to extinguish the fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard but said it’s too early to determine whether the ship can be repaired.
“I am 100% confident that our defense industry can put this ship back to sea,” said Adm. Mike Gilday. “But, having said that, the questions is, should we make that investment in a 22-year-old ship?”
Gilday spoke at a press conference at Naval Base San Diego a day after the Navy announced the fire was out on the 41,000-ton amphibious assault ship.
He said the ship had suffered “extensive” electrical, structural and mechanical damage over four days that needs to be assessed in detail.
The Navy plans three separate investigations into why the fire happened, how it was handled, and whether the ship can be cost-effectively repaired. Gilday said he is also calling for an assessment of safety and firefighting procedures on all Navy ships.
The admiral praised the “heroic and courageous” firefighting teams that “have gone into the fire again, and again, and again” despite visibility under two feet and temperatures above 1,000 degrees.
“The biggest takeaway for me today was the people,” Gilday said. “Their resiliency, their fearlessness, their confidence and and lastly their competence were four words that I could use to describe the sailors.”
He said he was initially concerned about whether there were sufficient resources on hand to fight the blaze, but was soon reassured by the response.
“We had sailors responding in numbers that stayed on scene for days,” he added. “We had to order many of them to go home.”
The admiral said two factors made the fire last as long as it did. These were the wind off the bay that fanned the flames, and a series of explosions that forced firefighters off the ship at key times.
“We have not seen a fire of this magnitude on a Navy ship in recent memory,” he said.
The ship was undergoing repairs at the time the fire broke out before 8 a.m. on Sunday. Only about 160 of the ship’s 1,000 crew members were aboard and all major munitions had already been removed.
Updated at 3:04 p.m. July 17, 2020