Fireboats and a helicopter battle the blaze
Harbor Police fireboats spray the burning USS Bonhomme Richard while a Navy helicopter drops water. Navy photo

The Navy announced Thursday that it will charge a sailor with starting the fire that severely damaged the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard last year while docked for maintenance at Naval Base San Diego.

“Charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice were brought forth against a Navy sailor in response to evidence found during the criminal investigation into the fire started on USS Bonhomme Richard,” said Cmdr. Sean Robertson, spokesman for the 3rd Fleet.

“The sailor was a member of Bonhomme Richard’s crew at the time and is accused of starting the fire,” Robertson said.

He said Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, commander of the 3rd Fleet, is considering court-martial and has ordered a preliminary hearing.

The identity of the sailor was not immediately disclosed.

The fire that began on the morning of July 12 took days to extinguish and left the ship listing, with its aluminum superstructure largely destroyed.

The Navy ultimately decided it couldn’t be repaired and decided to decommission the ship in November 2020. Officials cited the extensive damage the vessel sustained and the great cost of restoring it.

Repairs to the USS Bonhomme Richard would have cost more than $3 billion, a process that would have taken between five and seven years to complete, according to the Navy.

Rebuilding the ship for other purposes could have exceeded $1 billion in costs, which Naval officials say is as much or more than the cost of a newly constructed hospital ship, submarine tender, or command-and-control ship.

In addition to structural damage, the fire also caused minor injuries to more than 60 sailors and civilian firefighters and sent acrid smoke billowing over the San Diego region, raising air quality concerns for local residents.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Updated 3:15 p.m. July 29, 2021

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.