Navy levels charges against sailor accused of USS Bonhomme Richard fire

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – A member of the crew of the USS Bonhomme Richard has been accused of starting the fire which ripped through the ship on July 12, 2020, Navy officials announced Thursday.

Charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice were brought against the sailor — who has not been identified — Thursday in response to evidence found during the criminal investigation into the fire, which burned for four days while docked in San Diego.

Evidence collected during the investigation is sufficient to direct a preliminary hearing in accordance with due process under the military justice system, according to Cmdr. Sean Robertson, U.S. 3rd Fleet spokesman.

Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet, is considering court-martial 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.

Navy officials decided to decommission the ship in November 2020, citing the extensive damage the vessel sustained in the fire and excessive costs to restore it.

The USS Bonhomme Richard would have cost more than $3 billion to restore, a process that would take between five and seven years to complete, according to the Navy.

Rebuilding the ship for alternate purposes could exceed $1 billion in costs, which Naval officials say is as much or more than the cost of a newly construction hospital ship, submarine tender, or command-and-control ship.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” said Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite at the time. “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.”

In addition to structural damage to the ship, the fire also caused minor injuries to more than 60 sailors and civilian firefighters and sent acrid smoke billowing over the San Diego region, raising air quality concerns for local residents.

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