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Navy will scrap, decommission USS Bonhomme Richard after July blaze

By
Jean Lotus
The U.S. Navy announced plans Monday to scrap and decommission the USS Bonhomme Richard, which burned for almost five days in the Port of San Diego in July. File Photo by Lt. John J. Mike/U.S. Navy/UPI
The U.S. Navy announced plans Monday to scrap and decommission the USS Bonhomme Richard, which burned for almost five days in the Port of San Diego in July. File Photo by Lt. John J. Mike/U.S. Navy/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 30 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy will scrap the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship which burned for nearly five days in a San Diego port this summer, officials said.

"After thorough consideration, the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations have decided to decommission the Bonhomme Richard due to the extensive damage sustained during that July fire," Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage, the commander of Navy Regional Maintenance Center said in a phone call Monday. "In the weeks and months since that fire, the Navy conducted a comprehensive material assessment to determine the best path forward for that ship and our Navy."

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The Navy considered rebuilding and restoring the ship, which has transported U.S. Marines for amphibious maneuvers, but that would have cost between $2.5 billion and $3.2 billion and would have taken five to seven years, Ver Hage said Monday. The Navy also rejected a proposal to repurpose the vessel as a hospital ship or submarine tender.

Decommissioning the ship by harvesting parts and towing and scrapping the hull will cost about $30 million and take about a year, Ver Hage said.

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The cause of the ship fire is still unknown and multiple investigations are still taking place.

The ship caught fire during a port stop in San Diego for renovations and repairs.

The blaze sent 63 people, including 40 sailors and 23 civilians, to the hospital for smoke inhalation and caused San Diego air pollution to spike dangerously.

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One sailor was arrested in connection with the fire. Investigators suspect the fire was a work of an arsonist, NBC San Diego reported Monday.

Ver Hage said that Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite and Admiral Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations decided last week to scrap the ship. They informed Navy leadership and Congress today.

"Although it saddens me that it is not cost-effective to bring her back," Braithwaite said in a news release, "I know this ship's legacy will continue to live on through the brave men and women who fought so hard to save her as well as the sailors and Marines who served aboard her during her 22-year history."

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The USS Bonhomme Richard is assigned to the Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The name "BonHomme Richard" was first used in 1765 for a 900-ton merchant vessel that was converted in 1789 during the U.S. Revolutionary War to a Navy frigate under the command of Captain John Paul Jones, according to the Navy's history archives.

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A second ship named Bonhomme Richard was commissioned in 1944 during World War II by Roberta McCain, oil heiress and mother of late U.S. Sen. John McCain and wife of Vice Admiral John McCain Sr. That ship served in the Pacific theater, based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and in Japan and was decommissioned in July of 1971.

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The current ship was commissioned in 1998.

Decommissioning the ship will allow the U.S. Navy to give a new ship the historic name.

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