Fire-ravaged amphibious assault ship will be decommissioned, then towed away for scrapping

A large Navy ship docked at a pier, its central island structure partially dismantled
The USS Bonhomme Richard sits pierside in March as the Navy worked to dismantle and remove its island superstructure in preparation to scrap the ship.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

After extensive cleanup and reclamation in the wake of a July inferno, the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard will be decommissioned in San Diego next week before being towed elsewhere to be scrapped, the Navy said in a statement.

Navy officials said in November that although the Bonhomme Richard was salvageable, the time and price of repair — five to seven years at an estimated $2.5 billion to $3.2 billion — were too steep to warrant saving the 22-year-old ship.

The Navy plans to hold a small decommissioning ceremony Wednesday with limited attendance. Then the ship will be towed to a scrapyard, said Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a Naval Surface Force Pacific spokeswoman.


Schwegman said the ship could be bound for Galveston, Texas, but the Navy has not finalized its decision. “A contract award is imminent,” she said Friday.

Schwegman said most of the roughly 1,000 sailors assigned to the Bonhomme Richard have either been reassigned or are in the process of transferring.

Fire broke out on the vessel around 8:30 a.m. Sunday, July 12. Noxious black smoke darkened otherwise clear San Diego skies as the fire raged out of control. Temperatures on board topped 1,200 degrees at times, making it all but impossible for firefighting crews to access burning spaces to extinguish the fire.

Smoke rises from a large Navy ship as a helicopter drops water and fire tankers spray water
Navy helicopters drop water over the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego on July 13.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

More than 400 sailors from 16 San Diego-based ships joined federal firefighters to battle the blaze day and night. Helicopters from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Three dumped more than 1,500 buckets of water onto the ship in nearly round-the-clock operations.

The fire burned for four days before the Navy officially declared it extinguished.

Navy officials said at the time they believed the fire began in the 844-foot ship’s lower vehicle-storage area, a part of the ship with an ample supply of fuel and oxygen for a fire.


According to a report from KGTV Channel 10 in San Diego, Navy Criminal Investigative Service agents searched the home of a Bonhomme Richard sailor in August. No charges have been filed in the case. Cmdr. Myers Vasquez, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman, said the Navy’s investigation into the cause of the blaze is ongoing, and he declined to say when it might be completed.

Amphibious assault ships are the largest amphibious ships in the Navy and are used to deploy Marines and their equipment during amphibious landings. Their flight decks are capable of handling operations with helicopters and the F-35B Lightning fighter jet.

At the time of the fire, the Bonhomme Richard was nearing the end of a two-year, $250-million upgrade to accommodate F-35B operations. It is the largest U.S. naval warship lost since World War II.