The USS Bonhomme Richard will be decommissioned after a fire suspected to be caused by arson tore through the ship in July while it was docked in San Diego, according to military officials.
“Although it saddens me that it is not cost-effective to bring her back,,” Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite said in a news release issued on Monday, “I know this ship’s legacy will continue to live on through the brave men and women who fought so hard to save her as well as the sailors and Marines who served aboard her during her 22-year history.”
Investigators looking into the cause of the July 12 fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richard, while the ship was undergoing repairs, suspect the fire may have been caused by arson and have identified a U.S. Navy sailor as a potential suspect, a Defense Department source with direct knowledge of the investigation confirmed to NBC 7 in August.
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. Restoring it for another use, perhaps as a hospital, would take several years and cost $1 billion. The preferred option to decommission the ship will take nine months to a year and cost $30 million, Ver Hage said.
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.
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.
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“The dollars definitely would disrupt our strategy for investment,” he said.
The ship will likely be decommissioned in San Diego. Crew members will be notified of reassignment.
NCIS Public Affairs Officer Ed Buice told NBC 7 on Nov. 30 that the arson probe is still ongoing and, as such, they were unable to provide a comment other than confirmation of the investigation's open status.
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.”
The fire which began in the ship's lower storage area sparked a four-day firefight by hundreds of firefighters, including multiple water-dropping helicopters. It was one of the worst to rip through a U.S. warship outside of combat in recent years, according to Navy officials.
On July 24, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Navy confirmed that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) National Response Team were conducting a "thorough investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard."
"NCIS requested the assistance of the ATF NRT because they provide valuable fire investigative resources and expertise," said Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman.
Rear Adm. Philip E. Sobeck previously called the last 24 hours of the firefight aboard the amphibious assault ship “amazing," with the fire reaching up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the vessel.
After touring the ship, he noted the contributions of not only military members but also federal and local firefighters -- about 400 people in all -- and called it a "humbling experience"
More than 60 sailors and civilians were treated for minor injuries, heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.
The fire traveled upward to the well deck — a wide hangar-type area — and took off from there. The difficulty fighting the flames was compounded because there was scaffolding, along with other equipment and debris in the way of firefighters. In addition, one of the ship’s fire suppression systems was deactivated because of the maintenance project.
The Bonhomme Richard was nearing the end of a two-year upgrade estimated to cost $250 million when the fire broke out Sunday. About 160 sailors had moved on board, and all were safely evacuated.
The Associate Press contributed to this article -- Ed.
Check back for the latest updates on this developing story.