BY: LUIS MARTINEZ AND MATT SEYLER, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Navy has announced that it plans to scrap the USS Bonhomme Richard and not repair the amphibious assault ship ravaged by a major fire in San Diego in July.
The damage to the ship from the days-long fire, that at times reached 1,000 degrees, was too much to repair for a ship that had already been in service for almost a quarter of a century, according to the Navy.
“After thorough consideration, the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations have decided to decommission the Bonhomme Richard due to the extensive damage sustained during that July fire,” Rear Adm. Eric H. Ver Hage, commander of the Navy Regional Maintenance Center, told reporters on an audio-only news conference Monday.
Ver Hage said the Navy had explored three possibilities that included scrapping the ship, repairing it or re-configuring it into a hospital ship or tender.
In the end, those costs appeared to be just as expensive — and would take as long — as a future purchase of a new modern amphibious assault ship.
Scrapping the ship will cost $30 million over a nine- to 12-month timeline instead of a possible $2.5 billion renovation cost that could take as long as five to seven years.
Replacing the amphibious assault ship with a new America-class ship capable of launching F-35 Joint Strike Fighters would cost $4.1 billion and take five to six years.
The decommissioning process has already begun, with parts that can be used on other Navy ships being salvaged. The ship’s crew will be assigned to other positions within the Navy.
The Bonhomme Richard was pierside in San Diego undergoing renovations on July 12 when a fire in a storage area above where Marine Corps vehicles are usually stored on the large amphibious assault ship.
The fire quickly spread through the ship’s main hangar and consumed large areas of the ship’s interior. On the flight deck, one of the ship’s two masts collapsed from the intensity of the flames.
The blaze raged for days before firefighters were finally able to extinguish the flames later in the week. Significant metal areas of the ship’s interior were melted.
Since the fire, the Navy conducted engineering reviews to determine whether it made sense to go through a costly renovation of the ship that was commissioned in 1998.
In late August, defense officials confirmed to ABC News that they were investigating the possibility of arson and questioning a Navy sailor. On Monday, officials declined to comment on their ongoing investigation.
In late July, the Navy’s top admiral questioned whether it made sense to repair the ship after having seen firsthand all of the damage.
“I am 100% confident that our defense industry can put this ship back to sea,” said Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations. “But, having said that, the question is: Should we make that investment in a 22-year-old ship? And I’m not going to make any predictions until we take a look at all the facts and we follow the facts and we can make reasonable recommendations up the chain of command on the future steps, any repair efforts, future repair efforts of Bonhomme Richard.”
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