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Navy will decommission warship damaged by suspected arson fire

Sailors and Federal Fire San Diego firefighters fight a fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, July 12, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo)

The United States Navy said Monday that it will decommission a warship docked off San Diego after suspected arson this summer caused extensive damage, making it too expensive to restore.

Fully repairing the USS Bonhomme Richard to warfighting capabilities would cost $2.5 billion to $3 billion and take five to seven years, said Rear Adm. Eric H. Ver Hage of the Navy Regional Maintenance Center.

The amphibious assault ship burned for more than four days in July and was the Navy's worst U.S. warship fire outside of combat in recent memory. The ship was left with extensive structural, electrical and mechanical damage.

Sailors spray water on the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, July 13, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo)

Restoring it for another use, perhaps as a hospital, would take almost as long as full restoration and cost $1 billion. 

Decommissioning the ship will take nine months to a year and cost $30 million, Ver Hage said.

Navy officials and industry experts studied the cost and schedule with an eye toward "the art of the possible," Ver Hage told reporters. They decided it wasn't worth the money to restore, considering the impact it would have on other spending priorities.

"The dollars definitely would disrupt our strategy for investment," he said.

Sailors fight a fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, July 13, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo)

Arson is suspected as the cause of the July 12 fire, and a U.S. Navy sailor was questioned as a potential suspect, a senior defense official said in late August.

The sailor was questioned as part of the investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, an official with knowledge of the investigation said in August. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet made public. The sailor was not detained.

Fire crews work to cool the skin of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 14, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo)

Ver Hage declined to comment Monday on the status of several investigations and he didn't give a timeline for their completion, saying they "will conclude when the time is right."

Ver Hage said about 60% of the ship would likely need to be replaced to have it fully restored, including the flight deck, mast and many levels directly below the flight deck.

The ship will likely be decommissioned in San Diego. Crew members will be notified of reassignment.

A Navy helicopter and harbor boats help fight a fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, July 14, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Bonhomme Richard was nearing the end of a two-year upgrade estimated to cost $250 million when the fire started.

About 160 sailors and officers were on board when the flames sent up a huge plume of dark smoke from the 840-foot (256-meter) amphibious assault vessel, which had been docked at Naval Base San Diego while undergoing the upgrade.

Firefighters attacked the flames inside the ship while firefighting vessels with water cannons directed streams of seawater into the ship and helicopters made water drops.

More than 60 sailors and civilians were treated for minor injuries, heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

Sailors leave the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) after fighting the fire on board, Naval Base San Diego, July 16, 2020.

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