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Navy will not fix fire damaged warship, claiming it will cost billions

A US Navy warship that was engulfed in fire in July while docked in San Diego will be decommissioned instead of rebuilt, the Pentagon said on Monday, deciding to forgo a repair project that could have exceeded $ 3 billion.

The ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard, will be scrapped and some of its spare parts will be used in other Navy ships, officials said.

The Navy said it would have taken five to seven years to complete repairs to the Bonhomme Richard, which is one of eight Wasp-class amphibious assault ships and can carry more than 1,000 sailors.

Even the cost of rebuilding the ship for some other purpose could have exceeded $ 1 billion, according to the Navy. That’s more than the cost of the ship when it was built in the 1990s, which was estimated at $ 761 million by the Federation of American Scientists.

Navy officials have called the decommissioning of a ship due to the damage rare.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite said in a statement on Monday. “Following a thorough physical assessment during which various courses of action were considered and assessed, we came to the conclusion that it is not financially responsible to restore it.

The fire began on July 12 and burned for four days while the ship was docked at the US Naval Base San Diego. There were no deaths, but 68 military and civilian firefighters were treated for injuries that included smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion.

The fire started in a lower hold used for vehicle storage on the ship, which was rocked by an explosion. Temperatures in parts of the ship reached 1,000 degrees as the fire raged.

The New York Times reported in August that the blaze was under investigation as arson and that a sailor from the ship had been questioned, according to a senior Navy official and Department of Justice official. defense. The arson investigation was first reported by ABC 10 News in San Diego.

The Navy said Monday the cause of the blaze was still under investigation and declined to say whether the blaze was being treated as arson.

A spokeswoman for the San Diego Fire Department, which responded to the blaze, said the department was not involved in the investigation.

The ship was named after the French translation of the pen name of Benjamin Franklin used as the author of “Poor Richard’s Almanac”. It is the third naval warship to bear the Bonhomme Richard name.

Commissioned in 1998, the ship can carry helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and landing craft to transport equipment and troops. It is 847 feet long and has a crew of 102 officers and just over 1,000 sailors.

One of its first combat deployments was after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when the ship was sent to the Persian Gulf, said Christopher Gunther, a retired Marine Corps colonel who served on Bonhomme Richard with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“The ship is not just a piece of steel,” Gunther said in an interview on Monday. “You have all your memories of the great young Sailors and Marines who have served in this field over the years. You kind of see it as a symbol of their dedication to the country, and there it burns.

It was not immediately clear whether the crew of the Bonhomme Richard would be reassigned to the other seven Wasp-class assault ships. At the time of the fire, the ship was undergoing a long period of maintenance after years of deployment in Japan.

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