The Navy accused a sailor on Thursday of deliberately starting a fire last year that destroyed the Bonhomme Richard, one of the worst fires to engulf a U.S. warship outside of the fighting.
“The evidence gathered during the investigation is sufficient to order a preliminary hearing in accordance with due process under the military justice system,” said Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Navy spokesperson, said in a statement.
Captain Robertson said the sailor was a member of the ship’s crew at the time of the fire, which began on July 12, 2020. The Navy declined to provide any further details on the sailor except for his rank – apprentice sailor – and said the sailor would face charges of willful endangerment of a ship and aggravated arson.
The Commander of the Navy’s Third Fleet, Vice Admiral Steve Koehler, will decide whether to return the charges to court martial after the results of the hearing.
In August, Navy officials said a sailor was under investigation for possibly starting the fire aboard the ship, but it was not clear Thursday evening whether the charges had been brought against that same person.
The Navy has yet to release the results of its investigations into the blaze.
The Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship, was tied to the pier at Naval Base San Diego when a fire broke out and quickly spiraled out of control on a Sunday morning with fewer than 200 sailors on board.
Initial firefighting efforts were halted after an explosion inside the ship forced the sailors to temporarily withdraw for safety reasons. More than 400 sailors from 16 nearby ships battled the blaze, which reached temperatures of 1,000 degrees and took four days to extinguish. Dozens of military and civilian firefighters were treated for injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation while fighting the blaze.
The ship was decommissioned on April 14 after the Navy determined that repairing it would ultimately cost a lot more than building a replacement ship. Le Bonhomme Richard had been in service since August 1998 and participated in peacekeeping missions in East Timor in 2000 and subsequently supported combat operations in Iraq. The ship’s home port was Sasebo, Japan from 2012 to 2018 before returning to San Diego. It was undergoing a long period of repair and redevelopment when the fire broke out.
According to the US Naval Institute, the ship, which cost about $ 761 million to build, was sold for $ 3.66 million to a company in Brownsville, Texas, which will break it up and sell the metal for scrap. .