Port of San Diego Harbor Police boats combat a fire on board USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego. Navy photo

A Navy report obtained by national media Tuesday concluded that the USS Bonhomme Richard could have been saved if not for “repeated failures” in prior training and fire-fighting efforts during the five-day blaze.

The arson fire that broke out July 12 as the ship was docked at Naval Base San Diego left the amphibious assault ship listing and its superstructure in ruins. The Navy decided the damage would be too costly to repair and decommissioned the vessel.

The report by Vice Adm. Scott Conn criticized the ship’s officers for poor oversight, noting that the main firefighting foam system wasn’t used because it hadn’t been maintained properly and the crew didn’t know how to use it.

“Although the fire was started by an act of arson, the ship was lost due to an inability to extinguish the fire,” the report said, citing “repeated failures” by an “inadequately prepared crew.”

The report found maintenance reports had been falsified, and 87% of the ship’s fire stations had equipment problems or had not been inspected.

It also found that crew members did not ring alarms until a full 10 minutes after the fire was discovered, losing critical time.

The report specifically faults the ship’s three top officers — Capt. Gregory Thoroman, the commanding officer; Capt. Michael Ray, the executive officer; and Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez.

In all, a total of 17 officers, crew and civilian employees were cited for failures that directly led to the loss of the ship, while 17 others were said to have contributed to the disaster.

The ship was undergoing a two-year $249 million upgrade when the fire broke out in a lower storage area. Nearly 60 sailors were treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries.

In August, Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays was charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. He has denied setting the fire.

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Chris Jennewein

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