NCIS, ATF Investigating Sailor in USS Bonhomme Richard Fire Criminal Probe

August 26, 2020 8:24 PM - Updated: August 27, 2020 7:31 AM

An MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from the “Merlins” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3, provides aerial firefighting support alongside sailors and civilian fire crews on the ground to fight the fire aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on July 13, 2020. US Navy Photo

This post has been updated with additional details.

Federal agents are questioning a sailor in connection to the July fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) as part of the ongoing criminal investigation into the blaze, three defense officials told USNI News on Wednesday night.

Agents from Naval Criminal Investigation Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are questioning a sailor who was aboard the amphibious warship on the morning of July 12, when a fire in the lower vehicle storage area sparked a blaze that burned for four days, the officials said.

So far, the questioning has resulted in no charges, a Navy official told USNI News.

“We want to preserve the integrity of the investigation and we haven’t charged anyone,” the official told USNI News on Wednesday.
“We don’t want anyone to jump to conclusions. We are going to be thorough and methodical.”

A Navy spokesman told USNI News on Wednesday the service had nothing to announce and the criminal investigation was still ongoing.

The fire did not result in the any deaths and only minor injuries. However, for the ship itself, it’s unclear if the Navy will repair and restore the 22-year-old Bonhomme Richard.

The Sunday morning blaze swept from the lower decks of the ship through the hull touching almost every part of the ship. Bonhomme Richard, in the midst of a $248 million maintenance period, was packed with scaffolding and construction material that fueled the fire. The ship’s onboard fire suppression system has been deactivated and an explosion early in the fight against the fire slowed down the response and let the fire grow and burn for days.

Now the ship is in the midst of a salvage and cleanup effort as part of a $10 million contract awarded on July 22 to General Dynamics NASSCO.

In addition to the criminal investigation, there’s also a 3rd Fleet led command investigation and a safety probe into the fire ongoing.

Navy last month assigned Rear Adm. Kevin Byrne, who commands Naval Surface Warfare Center and Naval Undersea Warfare Center, to lead the Safety Investigation Board. U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino has appointed Vice Adm. Scott Conn to lead the command investigation.

“In order to drive vigorous self-assessment as a learning organization, [Aquilino] has directed the investigation to examine all casual and contributing factors from unit-level execution to programmatic, policy and resourcing that may have been a factor in this incident,” Cmdr. J. Myers Vasquez, a PACFLEET spokesman told USNI News earlier this month.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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