Bonhomme Richard Crew Member Accused Of Starting 2020 Fire

The US Navy announced late on Thursday that it has charged a sailor for allegedly starting the July 2020 fire that ultimately caused the USS Bonhomme Richard to be scrapped, a year after the fire was extinguished. The sailor in question was a crew member of the amphibious assault ship at the time of the fire.

In a press statement, U.S. 3rd Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Sean Robertson said:

“On July 29, 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 (LHD 6) on July 12, 2020.  Evidence collected during the investigation is sufficient to direct a preliminary hearing in accordance with due process under the military justice system.  The Sailor was a member of Bonhomme Richard’s crew at the time and is accused of starting the fire.

Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, Commander, U.S. Third Fleet is considering court-martial charges and has directed a preliminary hearing at which an impartial hearing officer will make determinations and recommendations required by the UCMJ prior to any further trial proceedings – including whether or not there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed and to offer a recommendation as to the disposition of the case.”

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Russell Smith, observes damage to the super structure aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) on July 18, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Anastasia McCarroll)

Arson had been suspected as a possible cause of the fire that burned for four days, with ABC 10News reporting in August 2020 that sources claimed that a sailor had been identified as a possible suspect, with search warrants executed at the sailor’s home and property. The US Navy did not comment on the claims at the time, saying that the investigation was still underway. Similarly, the Thursday statement did not identify the sailor charged beyond stating that they were a crew member at the time.

There are three other ongoing investigations into the fire:

  • a command investigation led by Vice Adm. Scott Conn, the commander of U.S. 3rd Fleet
  • a Naval Sea Systems Command failure review board investigating safety, structural and design issues related to the ship and what changes can be made to prevent a fire moving through the hull the way it did during the fire
  • a NAVSEA safety investigation board looking into events on board preceding the fire and any divergences from current policies and procedures.

The Navy did not comment on the progress of the other investigations in the statement, recommending those interested to contact the Navy Office of Information for more details on the command investigation.

Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group Three, and Capt. G. S. Thoroman, commanding officer, amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), salute the ensign for colors during a decommissioning ceremony for Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego April 14. The ceremony highlighted the history of the ship, its crew, and their legacy. Due to health and safety concerns related to COVID-19, the event was closed to the public. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex Millar)

The US Navy announced in December 2020 that it would be decommissioning the Bonhomme Richard, after an evaluation of the damage found that repairing or rebuilding the amphibious assault ship would cost at least as much as building a new ship. The Bonhomme Richard was officially decommissioned in April, and was towed to International Shipbreaking Limited, LLC’s facility in Brownsville, Texas for dismantlement, arriving there in May.