A San Diego shipyard has been given a $10-million award to continue emergency firefighting and ongoing cleanup efforts aboard amphibious warship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), according to a Pentagon contract announcement.
The award to NASSCO will modify a previous contract for repairs that were ongoing when the fire broke out last week. While all known fires aboard the 40,000-ton amphib were declared out on Thursday, the Navy is still in the midst of removing smoke, water and debris from the hull after a fire burned for more than four days. According to the award, the clean-up will be completed by November. The announcement comes as investigations into the cause of the fire and the severity of the damage ramp up, as outlined by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday last week.
In a message issued to leaders across the fleet, Gilday Wednesday praised the “tired but focused” work of firefighting crews who battled blazes on Bonhomme Richard and implored every sailor to learn from the July 12 fire that damaged all but three decks of the amphibious assault ship.
“We will thoroughly look into and learn from the fire on Bonhomme Richard. We will be committed to doing that together. I have no doubt about that,” Gilday wrote in the message to admirals and master chiefs, a copy of which was obtained by USNI News.
Gilday shared his observations from his Friday morning tour of the damaged ship, berthed at Pier 2 at Naval Base San Diego.
He reflected on his talks with the ship’s crew and firefighters, who rotated aboard to cool hot spots and tackle any flare-ups. He credited their naval training and personal commitment for repeated returns to “the intense, inferno-like heat” aboard the smoke-filled ship. He also had kudos for the “aerial bucket brigade” from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 3, from Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., who for five days and nights doused the ship with water and guided firefighting teams to hot spots.
In the message, Gilday is leaning on the Navy to ensure that the die-hard work those ship, fire and air crews demonstrated last week is not lost.
“As we look hard into recent events – and revisit and assess what we’ve learned from previous incidents, I am relying on you to reinforce those aspects of our culture demonstrated on Bonhomme Richard and across the Navy right now,” he wrote, imploring all sailors across the fleet to do their part.
“Focus on the positive attributes – that will overcome the negatives we want to avoid,” he wrote. “Continue to tackle concerns within your span of control while encouraging your subordinates to do the same. Push feedback up echelon; ask for more guidance if you need it. You all know these are the underpinnings of effective leadership and align closely with the Culture of Excellence we are building upon.”
“Mission readiness does not get a pass in the environment in which we operate,” he added.
Gilday, who this week is meeting virtually with Navy leaders at the quarterly flag officer conference, noted the continuing demands and work of naval forces throughout the globe and medical forces deployed domestically in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is not lost on me the enormity of our Navy’s presence across the globe right now,” he wrote, citing dual-carrier strike group operations in the Western Pacific, exercises with U.S. partners in the Bay of Bengal and in the Black Sea, a mine countermeasure exercise in the Arabian Gulf and a no-notice surge of Pacific-based submarines.
“All this…All. Of. This. – amidst a global pandemic,” Gilday wrote.
It remains unclear yet what the Navy will do with Bonhomme Richard, which officials said has “extensive” fire and water damage throughout 11 of the ship’s 14 decks after the fire originated in the ship’s lower vehicle stowage area. Navy officials have said the fire and water attack did not damage the ship’s four engine spaces nor its fuel tanks, although they indicated the ship had listed, to starboard and then to port, but had remained stable.
The biggest hit came to the ship’s island, or superstructure, which holds its critical warfighting spaces including bridge and combat systems. “The island is nearly gutted, as are some sections of the decks below,” Gilday wrote, adding, “sections of the flight deck are warped/bulging.” The fire, spread by wind and explosions through the ship’s open spaces and and fueled by many combustible materials, burned many of the spaces where the 1,000-member crew work and live.
Bonhomme Richard was two-thirds of the way through completing a $249-million scheduled maintenance, repair and upgrade availability that began in late 2018 and originally was slated to end in May. The ship had spent some time in the dry dock at nearby General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard, and among its modernization improvements were upgrades to accommodate the Marine Corps’ new F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.