Navy Won’t Repair Fire-Damaged Warship, Saying It Would Cost Billions

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A U.S. Navy warship that was engulfed by a fire in July while docked in San Diego will be decommissioned instead of rebuilt, the Pentagon said Monday, deciding to forgo a repair project that could have surpassed $3 billion.

The ship, the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard, will be dismantled and some of its spare parts will be used in other naval vessels, officials said.

The Navy said it would have taken five to seven years to complete the repairs to the Bonhomme Richard, which is one of eight Wasp-class amphibious assault ships and can carry more than 1,000 sailors.

Even the cost of rebuilding the ship for another purpose could have exceeded $1 billion, according to the Navy. That’s more than the ship’s cost when it was built in the 1990s, which has been estimated at $761 million by the Federation of American Scientists.

Navy officials characterized the decommissioning of a ship because of damage as rare.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite said in a statement on Monday. “Following an extensive material assessment in which various courses of action were considered and evaluated, we came to the conclusion that it is not fiscally responsible to restore her.”

The fire began on July 12 and burned for four days while the ship was docked at the U.S. naval base in San Diego. There were no fatalities, but 68 military and civilian firefighters were treated for injuries that included smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion.

The blaze started in a lower cargo hold that is used for vehicle storage on the ship, which was rocked by an explosion. Temperatures in some places on the ship reached 1,000 degrees as the fire raged.

The New York Times reported in August that the fire was being investigated as an arson case and that a sailor from the ship had been questioned, according to a senior Navy official and a Defense Department official. The arson investigation was first reported by ABC 10 News in San Diego.

The Navy said on Monday that the cause of the blaze was still under investigation and declined to say whether the fire was being treated as a case of arson.

A spokeswoman for the San Diego Fire Department, which responded to the fire, said the department was not involved in the investigation.

The ship was named after the French translation of the pen name Benjamin Franklin used as the author of “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” It is the third Navy warship to bear the name Bonhomme Richard.

Commissioned in 1998, the ship can carry helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and landing craft to transport equipment and troops. It is 847 feet long and has a crew of 102 officers and just over 1,000 sailors.

One of its first combat deployments was after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the ship was sent to the Persian Gulf, said Christopher Gunther, a retired Marine Corps colonel who served on the Bonhomme Richard with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“The ship is not just a hunk of steel,” Mr. Gunther said in an interview on Monday. “You have all your memories of the great young sailors and Marines that served on that over the years. You sort of see that as a symbol of their dedication to the country, and there it is just burning.”

It was not immediately clear whether the Bonhomme Richard’s crew would be reassigned to the seven other Wasp-class assault ships. At the time of the fire, the ship had been undergoing a lengthy maintenance period after years of being deployed in Japan.

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