A catalogue of failures left navy personnel unprepared to fight USS Bonhomme Richard fire reveals investigation report

Photo credit: US Navy
Photo credit: US Navy

A scathing report extending to more than 400 pages by the US Navy into the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard in 2020 has concluded that the loss of the ship was “completely preventable” and that there were major failures within the military chain of command that allowed the fire to destroy the warship.

The blaze broke out on the USS Bonhomme Richard on 12 July, 2020, and burned for four days. The report identifies 36 sailors, including five admirals, as having contributed to the loss of the ship. The report concluded that there were “four categories of causal factors that allowed for the accumulation of significant risk and led to an ineffective fire response: the material condition of the ship, the training and readiness of the ship’s crew, the integration between the ship and supporting shore-based firefighting organisations, and the oversight by commanders across multiple organisations”.

The command investigation also concluded a lack of familiarity with requirements and procedural non-compliance at multiple levels of command contributed to the loss of the ship. One sailor has been charged with aggravated arson and hazarding a vessel. A preliminary hearing for the sailor is scheduled for mid-November.

Vice chief of naval operations (VCNO), Admiral Bill Lescher says: “The loss of this ship was completely preventable.”

“And the Navy is executing a deliberative process that includes taking appropriate accountability actions with respect to personnel assigned to Bonhomme Richard and the shore commands designed to support the ship while moored at Naval Base San Diego.”

The report findings detailed widespread lapses in training, coordination, communication, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance, and overall command and control. Additionally, the report recognised the “bravery, ingenuity, and resourcefulness in the actions of sailors across the San Diego waterfront and others who had a role in the response,” and identified ten meritorious performance recommendations for actions taken during the firefighting efforts.

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