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In 2020, a US sailor was charged with arson after the enormous USS Bonhomme warship caught fire.


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The US Navy has charged a sailor in connection with a huge fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard that destroyed the amphibious warship in 2020.

According to Navy spokesperson Cmdr Sean Robertson, the sailor, whose name has not been made public, is accused of igniting the fire. It took four days to put out the fire aboard the warship in San Diego, California. At least 40 sailors were hurt, as well as 23 civilians.

Cmdr Robertson said in a statement that the accused sailor "was a member of Bonhomme Richard's crew at the time." "The evidence gathered throughout the inquiry is adequate to order a preliminary hearing under the military justice system in accordance with due process," he said.

 

The fire broke out on July 12, 2020, and it took four days for US Navy helicopters to drop over 1,500 water buckets and tug boats to spray water on the $1 billion (£716 million) vessel's side to put it out. As flames devoured the ship, clouds of black smoke billowed into the air, and the damaged ship's melted aluminum superstructure bent at a 45-degree angle.

 

The 40,000-ton USS Bonhomme Richard was one of the few US amphibious assault ships from which an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could take off when it was commissioned in 1998.

However, due to the high cost of restoring the vessel after the fire, it was decided to decommission and scrap it.

Source: BBC

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If the Navy has anything to do with the prosecution then this sailor is guilty before trial and going to the brig for a very long time ! probably even considering a charges of treason and working for a foreign government if they can get the right prosecutor on board. (pun intended)

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50 minutes ago, gummy said:

Does not say much about the fire control systems on board does it ?

If it was a deliberate act by someone who knew what they were doing, he could have (easily) disabled most of the fire control systems.

In reality, the pipes carrying water to  various parts of the ship have numerous valves all along the way. They are normally not hidden or "secured" in any way as they would need to be accessed instantly in the event of the ship taking damage.

For example, if the ship was hit by gunfire and the pipes were ruptured and water was flooding some compartments, the damage control team would need to be able to shut them off immediately.

Things like smoke detectors and heat sensors, if it was even equipped with such, could have also been disabled, allowing the fire to spread quickly before being detected.

No one on a ship would (normally) expect a shipmate to deliberately sabotage it. And considering they are built to withstand damage and made of (mostly) steel, with stout doors and hatches that can be used to seal off sections of the ship, it would take a lot of effort to start a fire (or fires) big enough to damage a ship that size.

I did Ship Fire Training when I was posted to the Navy base in Esquimalt, We had to suit up and wear self contained breathers before entering a room with metal grates for walkways and the whole floor was a pool of burning diesel.

But it wasn't a roaring inferno (I think they seal outside doors to limit the amount of oxygen there is to feed the fire so it doesn't get out of control). Still pretty surreal when you enter the compartment and it's nothing but flames everywhere and you have to "fight" your way forward with one guy spraying flame retardant and a second person creating an "umbrella" of water over you both to keep you from cooking.

Also did damage control training where they put you at the bottom of a specially built tower where each floor resembles the inside of a ship and they can flood it by pumping water between the walls which then enters the floor you are on through "burst" pipes and "holes in the hull" which you have to try and patch/plug/contain.
But you can't stop it all so you have to move up a level before the compartment floods and try again.

And it was Canada so the water was friggen cold !

As well, if it was sabotage, it would probably have been started at a time when there was minimal crew on board.
While in dock, with most of the ship's crew on shore leave or just "gone home for the day" there may have only been a couple dozen people on board (depending on why the ship was in dock). If they were in port just because they were coming off a tasking and didn't need much in the way of repairs or replenishment, they may have had only a small "watch" party on board consisting of a lower ranked Duty Officer, a couple of senior enlisted (Petty Officers) and a handful of junior enlisted (a couple in the mess, a couple in the engine compartment (it wasn't nuclear powered) and a couple security personnel for example. Maybe a couple dozen other "off duty" personnel.

But who knows. The Navy must have a pretty good idea though if they are moving forward with charges.

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Just now, kerryd said:

If it was a deliberate act by someone who knew what they were doing, he could have (easily) disabled most of the fire control systems.

In reality, the pipes carrying water to  various parts of the ship have numerous valves all along the way. They are normally not hidden or "secured" in any way as they would need to be accessed instantly in the event of the ship taking damage.

For example, if the ship was hit by gunfire and the pipes were ruptured and water was flooding some compartments, the damage control team would need to be able to shut them off immediately.

Things like smoke detectors and heat sensors, if it was even equipped with such, could have also been disabled, allowing the fire to spread quickly before being detected.

No one on a ship would (normally) expect a shipmate to deliberately sabotage it. And considering they are built to withstand damage and made of (mostly) steel, with stout doors and hatches that can be used to seal off sections of the ship, it would take a lot of effort to start a fire (or fires) big enough to damage a ship that size.

I did Ship Fire Training when I was posted to the Navy base in Esquimalt, We had to suit up and wear self contained breathers before entering a room with metal grates for walkways and the whole floor was a pool of burning diesel.

But it wasn't a roaring inferno (I think they seal outside doors to limit the amount of oxygen there is to feed the fire so it doesn't get out of control). Still pretty surreal when you enter the compartment and it's nothing but flames everywhere and you have to "fight" your way forward with one guy spraying flame retardant and a second person creating an "umbrella" of water over you both to keep you from cooking.

Also did damage control training where they put you at the bottom of a specially built tower where each floor resembles the inside of a ship and they can flood it by pumping water between the walls which then enters the floor you are on through "burst" pipes and "holes in the hull" which you have to try and patch/plug/contain.
But you can't stop it all so you have to move up a level before the compartment floods and try again.

And it was Canada so the water was friggen cold !

As well, if it was sabotage, it would probably have been started at a time when there was minimal crew on board.
While in dock, with most of the ship's crew on shore leave or just "gone home for the day" there may have only been a couple dozen people on board (depending on why the ship was in dock). If they were in port just because they were coming off a tasking and didn't need much in the way of repairs or replenishment, they may have had only a small "watch" party on board consisting of a lower ranked Duty Officer, a couple of senior enlisted (Petty Officers) and a handful of junior enlisted (a couple in the mess, a couple in the engine compartment (it wasn't nuclear powered) and a couple security personnel for example. Maybe a couple dozen other "off duty" personnel.

But who knows. The Navy must have a pretty good idea though if they are moving forward with charges.

There is instrumentation and electronics controlling these systems and to detect pressure losses, heat, smoke etc to put it in simple terms. Gone are the days when everything was opened manually. Even in the late 60's/70's when I was in the engineering design office working on the UK's Type 43 vessels it was automated. Times have moved on and I would expect US vessels would have similar systems installed. I picked this reference up for the Type 45's on fire control systems if it is of any interest

https://www.johnsoncontrols.com/-/media/jci/be/united-kingdom/insights/files/case-studies/bts_case_study_type_45_d_destroyers.pdf

So I will go back and say again what went wrong with the fire control systems ? Judging by the number of casualties it does not appear it was a "dead ship" nor would a rank of Sailor have access to systems control centres so I bet there is more to this story if we only knew.

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I suspect we'll never get the full story as the Navy wouldn't want the details known.

And it doesn't say what rank the sailor was so it is possibly he would have been senior enough, and in a MOC that would have given him access.

As you say, with modern automated fire suppression systems and detectors, they should have detected the fire(s) sooner.

Aha ! Just checked the wiki and it notes this:
"Since the ship was in maintenance, on-board fire-suppression systems had been disabled, delaying the onset of firefighting efforts, according to Admiral Sobeck."

It says there was an (unexplained) explosion on the ship and that the fire started in an area normally used to park military trucks while at sea (part of their amphibious complement).
They think the fire was fueled by "paper, clothe, rags or other material" but not by fuel oil.

And yes, she was in port for maintenance so most of her crew would probably have been on shore leave.

Most of the "casualties" were minor injuries and/or smoke inhalation. No deaths reported.

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2 minutes ago, kerryd said:

I suspect we'll never get the full story as the Navy wouldn't want the details known.

And it doesn't say what rank the sailor was so it is possibly he would have been senior enough, and in a MOC that would have given him access.

As you say, with modern automated fire suppression systems and detectors, they should have detected the fire(s) sooner.

Aha ! Just checked the wiki and it notes this:
"Since the ship was in maintenance, on-board fire-suppression systems had been disabled, delaying the onset of firefighting efforts, according to Admiral Sobeck."

It says there was an (unexplained) explosion on the ship and that the fire started in an area normally used to park military trucks while at sea (part of their amphibious complement).
They think the fire was fueled by "paper, clothe, rags or other material" but not by fuel oil.

And yes, she was in port for maintenance so most of her crew would probably have been on shore leave.

Most of the "casualties" were minor injuries and/or smoke inhalation. No deaths reported.

May make a movie of that one day considering a ship only just over 20 years old at the time of the blaze could single handedly be destroyed by a guy with a Zippo ?

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15 minutes ago, gummy said:

May make a movie of that one day considering a ship only just over 20 years old at the time of the blaze could single handedly be destroyed by a guy with a Zippo ?

Seriously. Probably a NCIS episode or two as well. Sheesh, if they can make a whole movie about a guy who landed a plane in a river, why not one about a billion dollar warship destroyed while sitting in it's home port ?

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Posted (edited)

Late last year (or earlier this year), I recall reading several articles, mostly speculative about this fire on some non- Navy mariners websites. This was well before the arrest of anyone suspected of starting the fire.

Through comments by Navy personnel speaking on the condition of anonymity at that time, the suspect was allegedly a disgruntled seaman who was suspected of setting at least a couple of smaller fires in the days or weeks leading up to this inferno. These articles also suggested that since the vessel was under a major refit, there were hundreds of non-Navy contractors working throughout the vessel and the main war materiel assembly area, 'Deep V' was where there was a largely disorganized and mostly unregulated 'warehousing' of new material coming on and skips and pallets of old material and trash for landing ashore; a bit like a huge, messy building site. There was also the suggestion that some critical fire detection systems had been disabled in various areas of the ship due to being spuriously triggered by smoke, dust and other emissions from the ongoing 24/7 refitting and refurbishing. For the very reason that some of the fire control systems were also being upgraded, some fire stations had either been removed, relocated or disconnected and thus made redundant. There was also a comment that although several hundred Navy crew were still billeted onboard, there had been no General Alarm, Fire or other Muster Drills conducted. The underlying tilt of the commentary was a badly organized and poorly administered bout of extended shipyard work or, in layman's terms, an accident waiting to happen.

The BBC's report in the OP comes after the Navy had arrested Ryan Sawyers Mays who is variously reported as a 'disgruntled SEAL dropout' or someone with an axe to grind. It appears that CIS may have found their 'root cause' of the incident but so far there's no mention of the badly managed dockside refit that enabled his alleged fire-setting to result in a $2.5 billion vessel write-off.

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/08/04/seal-dropout-who-shipmates-said-hates-navy-suspected-bonhomme-richard-fire.html

The USN in general and the Pacific Command in particular, have had a torrid time for at least five years already. I will be watching how this incident's 'prosecution' unfolds and see if there's any shielding of officers and commanders who, in the merchant marine environment, would be deemed as complicit in creating the conditions that enabled this conflagration. The USN's investigation although now completed, is still under internal review.

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/07/12/one-year-after-bonhomme-richard-fire-questions-remain-unanswered.html

 

 

 

Edited by cacadordemim
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If I recall, I think the wiki article said there were 3 (or more) investigations ongoing, including the one for who started the fire, another one for how it managed to do what it did and I think the 3rd one was related to the response (which may include the command level response on the ship and the dockyard).

Before we had to worry about "disgruntled postal workers". Now it's "disgruntled failed SEALS" ?

Not sure which is scarier !

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