Asia Defense | Security

US Amphibious Assault Ship Burns in Port for Second Day

USS Bonhomme Richard caught fire during maintenance in San Diego on Sunday.

Steven Stashwick
US Amphibious Assault Ship Burns in Port for Second Day
Credit: U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist/Released

On Sunday the USS Bonhomme Richard caught fire at the San Diego Naval Base, where the ship was undergoing extended repairs. It appeared to still be burning on Monday morning, as firefighting efforts continue.

At least 21 sailors and civilian workers were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries and five remained hospitalized for observation as of Monday morning.

The fire was reported by the ship’s crew at around 8:30 a.m. local time on Sunday morning. Federal firefighters from the base quickly joined the response and local San Diego fire fighters began providing assistance about 30 minutes later.

Being the weekend, only about 160 of the normal crew of 1,000 were onboard at the time. The cause of the fire is still unknown; sometime after it broke out what sounded like an internal explosion was heard. The admiral in charge of the ship said that the fire was believed to have started in a deep cargo hold normally used to store equipment for embarked marines. The fire was principally burning flammable material but not fuel or munitions, and the 1 million gallons of fuel still aboard the ship were not believed to be in danger of igniting.

The fire appeared to be blazing in the ship’s interior and smoke poured out of the hull, forcing the Navy to move two destroyers, including the recently repaired USS Fitzgerald, that were tied up to piers nearby further away.

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U.S. Navy helicopters equipped with water buckets normally used for fighting forest fires joined the effort overnight, dumping water on the ship’s smoking super structure. Tugboats equipped with water cannons and fire trucks on the pier continued to pour water on the ship’s hull all day and continued Monday morning, suggesting that the fire was creating extreme amounts of heat inside.

The U.S. Navy considers the Bonhomme Richard an amphibious assault ship because it carries helicopters, tilt-rotor aircraft, and has a large floodable bay for beach landing craft to send marines ashore. At more than 40,000 tons, however, it is closer in size to the aircraft carriers used in other navies; the Bonhomme Richard and the U.S. Navy’s eight other amphibious assault ships are roughly the same size as France’s Charles de Gaulle and two-thirds the size of China’s Liaoning aircraft carriers.

Commissioned in 1998, the Bonhomme Richard spent years based in Sasebo, Japan before coming back to the United States in 2018. It is one of the United States’ five Pacific-based amphibious assault ships.

Serious fires during maintenance periods are not unprecedented. In 2012 a yard worker deliberately set a fire on the submarine USS Miami. The blaze took more than 100 firefighters to put out and the damage to the submarine proved so extensive that the ship was scrapped in 2015.

In April, China’s first Type 075 amphibious assault ship, analogous to the Bonhomme Richard, also caught fire while being worked on in a shipyard in Shanghai. The cause and extent of the damage to the Type 075 is unknown.