US Navy fights to tame fierce fire on warship

US Navy helicopters and city firefighters fighting the spreading fire on the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard at US Naval Base San Diego on Monday. The warship caught fire on Sunday. PHOTO: REUTERS
US Navy helicopters and city firefighters fighting the spreading fire on the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard at US Naval Base San Diego on Monday. The warship caught fire on Sunday. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN DIEGO • Hundreds of firefighters battled through a second day from the air, land and water to save a US war vessel swept by flames while moored at a San Diego shipyard, as the number of sailors and civilians injured in the blaze rose to nearly 60.

The USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship whose size ranks second in the US Navy fleet to that of an aircraft carrier, remained largely shrouded in thick, acrid smoke on Monday as the vessel began listing to its starboard side.

The fire, accompanied by at least one large explosion, erupted on Sunday morning in the lower cargo hold of the 257m ship, docked for routine maintenance at its home port at US Naval Base San Diego.

Since then, flames have spread throughout much of the ship and up into the tower and other structures on the top of the vessel, Rear-Admiral Philip Sobeck told a news conference on Monday.

Because it was undergoing repairs at the time, only about 160 of the ship's usual contingent of 1,000 crew members were aboard at the time and all major munitions had already been removed from the vessel as a standard safety practice, Navy officials said.

Helicopters dropped water over the ship throughout Monday while fire boats on the perimeter streamed water on the hull to cool it from the outside.

San Diego fire crews discontinued blasting water into the ship from shore, apparently out of concern over destabilising the vessel's buoyancy.

Asked whether the ship might be razed beyond repair, Rear-Adm Sobeck said he was "hopeful" it could be spared. "Once we get the fire out, which is our priority, then we'll make that assessment."

The fire's cause was unknown, but a Navy spokesman said there was no evidence of foul play. The Navy said 36 sailors and 23 civilians had been treated for minor injuries, including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, and no personnel remained hospitalised.

The Bonhomme Richard, commissioned in 1998, is designed to carry US Marine Corps attack helicopters and ground troops into battle.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2020, with the headline US Navy fights to tame fierce fire on warship. Subscribe