Lolita K. Baldor | Associated Press
WASHINGTON – A Navy report says commanders, crew members, and others committed massive setbacks that led to the July 2020 arson that destroyed USS Bonhomme Richard and called the massive five-day fire in San Diego preventable and unacceptable.
Although one sailor was charged with arson, a more than 400-page report obtained by the Associated Press lists three dozen officers and sailors whose mistakes either directly led to or contributed to the loss of the ship. The findings detail widespread omissions in training, coordination, communications, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance, and overall command and control.
“Although the fire was started by arson, the vessel was lost due to inability to extinguish the fire,” the report says, and concludes that “repeated failures” by “inadequately trained crew” resulted in “ineffective fire response … “
He blamed the landing craft command for poor oversight and stated that the main foam fire suppression system was not used because it was not properly maintained and the crew did not know how to use it. The report is expected to be released on Wednesday.
US Navy officials said Tuesday that while crews at sea consistently meet high firefighting standards, those skills are lost when ships go into maintenance. Bonhomme Richard was undergoing repairs at the time of the fire.
During the maintenance of the ship, more people and organizations are involved, including contractors. Repairs often involve equipment and chemicals that present various hazards and problems.
The report describes the ship in disarray, with combustible materials scattered and improperly stored. It said that maintenance reports were falsified and that 87% of the fire stations on board had equipment problems or were not audited.
It was also found that the crew did not ring the bells to warn sailors of the fire until 10 minutes after it was discovered. At these critical moments, the report says, the teams delayed donning firefighting equipment, assembling teams from hoses and responding to the fire.
The sailors were also unable to press a button and activate the fire-fighting foam system, although it was available and could slow the spread of the fire. “None of the crew members interviewed considered this action and had no specific knowledge of the location of the button or its function,” – said in the message.
The report blames a wide range of ranks and responsibilities, from the now retired three-star admiral in charge of the US Pacific Fleet, Vice Admiral Richard Brown, to senior commanders, lower-ranking sailors and civilian program managers. Seventeen were listed for failures that “directly” resulted in the loss of the ship, and 17 others “contributed” to the loss of the ship. Two other sailors were accused of not helping to effectively fight the fire. Of the 36 people, nine are civilians.
Admiral William Lescher, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, has appointed the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet to take any disciplinary action against the military. Navy officials said the disciplinary process was just beginning. One of the officials said that a key challenge in making improvements will be to eliminate “human factors”, including leadership skills, and to ensure that everyone, down to the lowest ranked seafarers, understands their responsibilities, can recognize problems and fix them.
Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the report ahead of public release.
In particular, the report refers to the failures of Vice Admiral Brown; Rear Admiral Scott Brown, Pacific Fleet Maintenance Officer; Rear Admiral William Green, Navy Maintenance Officer, United States Fleet Command; Rear. Admiral Eric Ver Hage, Head of the Regional Maintenance Center; Rear Admiral Betty Bolivar, Commander of the Southwest Region of the Navy; Captain Mark Nisvyadomi, commander of the San Diego Naval Base; and Captain Tony Rodriguez, commander of the 5th amphibious squadron, “contributed to the sinking of the ship.”
The report also contains a direct error against the three top officers of the ship – Captain Gregory Thoroman, commanding officer; Captain Michael Ray, Executive Director; and Captain-Commander Jose Hernandez for ineffective provision of readiness and condition of the ship.
“The performance of his duties created an environment with poor training, maintenance and operational standards, which directly resulted in the loss of the ship,” the Toroman report said. It stated that Ray, Hernandez and Captain David Hart, commander of the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, also failed in their duties, leading directly to the loss of the ship.
The report lists the names of only senior naval officers. The rest were described solely by position or rank.
More broadly, the brigade has been criticized for “a pattern of failed exercises, minimal crew involvement, lack of basic fire fighting knowledge” and inability to coordinate with civilian firefighters.
“The loss of USS Bonhomme Richard was a completely avoidable catastrophe,” said US Representative John Garamendi, California, chair of the US House of Representatives’ Preparedness Subcommittee. He said that he read the report “with shock and anger” and will carefully study the matter to “determine the full extent of negligence and complacency.”
When the fire broke out, the vessel was undergoing a two-year $ 250 million San Diego dock upgrade. On board were 115 sailors, about 60 received treatment for heat exhaustion, smoke poisoning and minor injuries. Failure to extinguish or contain the fire resulted in temperatures exceeding 1200 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas, parts of the ship melting into molten metal, which spilled over into other parts of the ship.
Due to damage, the Navy decommissioned the ship from service in April. In August, a seaman’s apprentice Ryan Mays was charged with aggravated arson and deliberate assault on the ship. He denied arson.
According to the court document, the fire started in the lower storage room, which was accessed by Mays’ duty station. Investigators found that three of the four fire departments on the ship had evidence of tampering, including disconnected fire hoses, and a flammable liquid was found near the site of the fire.
The report says the fire suppression efforts were hampered by the ship’s crew and other external fire departments and organizations not being coordinated, able to communicate effectively, training together, and not being well trained.
The report, written by VP Scott Conn, included a number of recommended changes and improvements that Lescher approved. The Navy has developed a new fire safety assessment program that carries out spot checks and has taken steps to improve training. Nearly 170 of these checks have already been carried out and officials said they are producing good results.
The Navy also conducted a historical study, closely examining 15 shipyard fires over the past 12 years. He found recurring trends, including non-compliance with fire prevention, detection and response policies.
As a result, the Navy’s leadership is expanding the staff and responsibilities of the Maritime Security Center to conduct audits and unannounced assessments of the Navy’s units. The final cost is still being calculated.