USS Bonhomme Richard’s destruction after fire caused by repeated failures, Navy says

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A Navy investigation into the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard concluded that although the July 2020 fire is believed to be arson, “the ship was lost due to an inability to extinguish the fire.”

The findings, reviewed by CBS News on Tuesday, found that 36 individuals —including the ship’s captain and five admirals — were responsible for the loss of the ship, either by their own actions or by a lack of oversight leading up to the alleged arson. 

The investigation also took note of “repeated failures” during the 19-month period the ship was undergoing a major overhaul that “allowed for the accumulation of significant risk and an inadequately prepared crew, which led to an ineffective fire response.”  

“Overall, this command investigation concluded that the loss of the ship was clearly preventable, and this is unacceptable,” Admiral Bill Lescher, vice chief of Naval Operations, said in a call with reporters on Wednesday.  


The fire started on a Sunday in July 2020, while the ship was undergoing an overhaul in San Diego. It burned for four days and injured over 60 sailors and civilians before firefighters could put it out. 

Navy Ship USS Bonhomme Richard Burns At Naval Base In San Diego
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – JULY 12: A fire burns on the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego on July 12, 2020 in San Diego, California. There was an explosion on board the ship with multiple injuries reported.

Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

Extinguishing the fire required hundreds of military and civilian firefighters and used helicopters to dump gallons of water onto the blaze.

Earlier this year, the Navy charged 20-year-old Ryan Sawyer Mays for starting the blaze. Mays, who holds the rank of seaman apprentice, was a member of the ship’s crew at the time. 

While investigators believe Mays started the fire, they found the ship’s destruction should have been prevented. 

The investigation found four major areas that contributed to the ultimate destruction of the ship – the material condition of the ship, the lack of training and readiness, the inadequate response of support from the shore, and oversight that would’ve codified what to do in response to the fire. 

The Navy estimated it would cost more than $2.5 billion to repair the ship, so it had the ship decommissioned in April and towed away to be dismantled.  

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