US Navy charges sailor accused of starting the fire that completely destroyed his amphibious assault ship

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US Navy charges sailor accused of starting the fire that completely destroyed his amphibious assault ship
Firefighters battle a fire aboard the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christina Ross
  • The US Navy brought charges against a sailor in connection to the USS Bonhomme Richard fire.
  • The sailor was a member of the crew and is accused of starting the fire.
  • The fire devastated the amphibious assault ship, leading the Navy to scrap it rather than repair it.

The US Navy has brought charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice against a sailor in connection with the devastating fire that destroyed the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard last July.

"The Sailor was a member of Bonhomme Richard's crew at the time and is accused of starting the fire," Third Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson said in a statement.

He explained that "evidence collected during the investigation is sufficient to direct a preliminary hearing in accordance with due process under the military justice system."

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The preliminary hearing for the sailor was directed by Third Fleet commander Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, who the Navy says is considering court-martial charges. The service withheld the identity of the sailor.

US Navy charges sailor accused of starting the fire that completely destroyed his amphibious assault ship
A fire burns aboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, July 12, 2020. US Navy/MCS2 Austin Haist via Getty Images

The serious fire that broke out last summer aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard burned for four days, leaving the vessel in such poor condition in the aftermath that the Navy made the decision to decommission and scrap the ship rather than invest time and money in any attempt to repair it.

Early invesigations into the fire indicated that it started in a lower vehicle storage area. It then spread rapidly through the ship. Dozens of people were injured battling the blaze.

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About a month and a half after the incident, a senior defense official told the Associated Press that investigators suspected arson was the cause of the fire and that a sailor was being questioned as a potential suspect. It is unclear if the sailor charged this week is the same person.

If the fire was intentionally set, it will mark the second time in a decade the Navy has lost a ship to arson. Following a fire set by a shipyard worker aboard the nuclear-powered submarine USS Miami in May 2012, the Navy made the decision to scrap the boat. The shipyard worker was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

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