Navy: Sailor suspected of starting fire that destroyed ship on San Diego Bay

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Sailors and federal firefighters stand beside the blaze on USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, July 13, 2020, which defense officials later said was a suspected arson. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

SAN DIEGO (KSWB) – Military officials are bringing charges against a sailor suspected of starting the destructive Navy ship fire that burned for four days in San Diego last year and ultimately led to the vessel’s decommissioning.

The Navy said last August that the July 2020 blaze on the USS Bonhomme Richard was a suspected arson and that a sailor had been questioned as part of the investigation, but little more about the case was disclosed in the months that followed. On Thursday, Navy authorities announced their criminal investigation had turned up enough evidence to consider court-martial charges against a sailor who served on the warship and order a preliminary hearing.

“Evidence collected during the investigation is sufficient to direct a preliminary hearing in accordance with due process under the military justice system,” Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a spokesperson for the U.S. 3rd Fleet, wrote in a statement. “The Sailor was a member of Bonhomme Richard’s crew at the time and is accused of starting the fire.”

Robertson said an “impartial hearing officer” will make recommendations for a potential further trial.

More details about the evidence discovered during the Navy’s investigation were not immediately shared.

The amphibious assault ship burned for more than four days after fire broke out in a lower storage area and was the Navy’s worst warship fire outside of combat in recent memory. More than 400 sailors assisted federal firefighters in putting out the blaze.

The Navy announced in November that it would send the San Diego-based vessel to the scrapyard because repairs to the ship after the fire would be too costly. The cost of repairs was estimated to be between $2.5 billion and $3.2 billion. The Navy said decommissioning will cost about $30 million.

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