Monday, July 13, 2020

The Burning of the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6)

The pic on the right is from 0700 local time in San Diego via Denis Bondarenko, a civmar across the pier. Over the last 24-hrs, she has burned bow to stern, and overnight fire made it up the island to the bridge, the aft mast collapsed and more. That is only what we can see from the outside, you can imagine the damage internally.

BHR spent the last two years in a yard period. The 22-yr old big-deck amphib was being modernized and made ready for F-35B and to be a critical part of our fleet through this decade. Last night when I realized that after the ship was abandoned, we now had firefighting crews back on board, I was uncharacteristically optimistic, but with the morning not anymore.

I’ll go ahead and make this bet; the ship is a total loss. The big battle now is to make sure the ship does not sink pierside.

There is a lot we do not know, and even though almost everyone who served has their pet theories about fires in a yard, it is best to see what is discovered during the upcoming investigation. With this much damage, finding the cause might be difficult, but we have the world’s best at this, so I’m willing to wait.

There are a few observations that have been top of mind over the last day.

1. We were not ready for the inevitable: I don’t care if it were a Sunday, the Navy was MIA from the information flow as one of our nation’s premier cities was blanketed with smoke from a capital ship burning in the heart of the city. We almost seemed paralyzed and waiting for everything to be fully smooth and approved while the city and nation wondered what was going on. In San Diego especially, there is a special bond between the city and its Navy. We let them down by not showing in a very public way who was the face and voice of the Navy during this crisis.

2. We are not as good at safety as we think we are: Fires during maintenance availability are not uncommon for any navy. How and why was this fire allowed to spready so fast and so far? There are rumors, but I won’t repeat them here as they are just speculation, but this should be known far and wide once the investigation is done. The people of San Diego and the nation need to know. No overclassification issues here. Don’t even try.

3. Can you get underway?: The USS FITZGERALD was right across the pier from BHR and was the first, under a blinding cloud of smoke, to get underway and out of the way. BZ to her crew. From the cheap seats though, that took way too long and not enough ships joined her. That story, along with the other ships close to BHR, sitting there soaking in all those toxic fumes, is another story I want told. That doesn’t even begin to discuss what would have happened if the fuel stores on BHR went.

4. We got lucky: we got lucky the ship was not full of Sailors and so far there have been no deaths. We are lucky that there were no weapons onboard. We are lucky this was not a nuclear powered ship. We are lucky, at least as of 11am Eastern, BHR has not sunk.

PACFLT has had a bad run the last three years, this is just another black eye. More to follow.

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