On Friday, U.S. chief of naval operations Adm. Mike Gilday toured the fire-damaged amphib USS Bonhomme Richard and gave a brief update on the response effort and the vessel’s condition.
“The biggest takeaway for me today was the people,” Gilday said. “We ought to be proud of them . . . If anyone has any doubts about this generation of sailor, airman, soldier or marine, at least for me, they should be put to rest by the heroic and courageous effort of [these firefighters].”
Sailors move to assist the damage control effort aboard USS Bonhomme Richard, July 17 (USN)
According to Gilday, the response command thought that it would be possible to bring the fire under control by Sunday night. However, it spread quickly from a lower vehicle hold up into the upper decks, and it burned until Thursday morning. He said that there were several factors that made the fire more difficult to fight: first, the wind off the bay; second, its point of origin, which allowed the flames to spread up elevator shafts and exhaust stacks; and third, the multiple explosions that rocked the ship, which forced the commanding officer to evacuate firefighters multiple times in order to ensure their safety. At one point, Gilday said, an explosion aboard Bonhomme Richard blew debris all the way across the pier and onto another ship, which had not yet been moved out of harm’s way.
“And so I think that the situation was very tenuous, I think the commanding officer made some very sound decisions in terms of how to attack the fire, very deliberately,” Gilday said.
The damage aboard Bonhomme Richard is “extensive,” Gilday said. Based on a walkthrough from four decks below the flight deck and up into the superstructure, he said that the damage to electrical, mechanical and structural elements of the ship will have to be fully evaluated by a team of Navy and industry experts. That assessment has already begun, and it will inform decisionmaking on whether it makes sense to repair the vessel.
“I am 100 percent confident that our defense industry can put this ship back to sea, but having said that, the question is, should we make that investment in a 22-year-old ship – and I’m not going to make any predictions until we look at all the facts,” Gilday said.
Bonhomme Richard listing at the pier, July 17 (USN)
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