Firefighting crews are still tackling a serious blaze on board the big-deck amphibious assault ship the USS Bonhomme Richard, with the fire continuing to burn after more than three days straight.
Helicopters have made more than 1,500 water drops to suppress the fire onboard the vessel, which has been engulfed in flames since Sunday morning, the US Navy said in a statement on Wednesday. The firefighting teams are continuing with their all-out efforts to extinguish the fire and quell smoldering hotspots.
A video released by the Navy shows firefighting tugboats dousing the ship’s hull as helicopters drop water on its deck. Firefighters can also be seen coming aboard the vessel, with plumes of smoke still pouring from its hull.
A total of 63 people – 40 sailors and 23 civilians – have been treated for minor injuries and smoke inhalation since the start of the blaze, the Navy said, adding that no personnel are still in hospital. Despite the massive fire and an explosion accompanying it, the ship escaped irreparable damage, according to the Navy.
“There is no threat to the fuel tanks, which [are] well below any active fires or heat sources. The ship is stable, and [its] structure is safe,” Rear Admiral Philip Sobeck told reporters. He added that the firefighters had “investigated” four main engineering spaces and found no major damage there either.
The fire reportedly broke out in a part of the ship where cardboard boxes were stored, although its exact cause is still unknown. Unfortunately, the vessel’s built-in flame suppression system was deactivated at the time as it was undergoing maintenance. The origins of the blast that shook the ship some two hours after the blaze started remain unknown as well.
“Going forward, the Navy will do a thorough investigation of the incident, to assess the cause of the fire [and] damage to the ship,” said Sobeck, the commander of USN Expeditionary Strike Group Three. “But right now … my focus and our focus remains putting the fire out and keeping our ship base safe.”
The USS Bonhomme Richard is one of the Navy’s nine big-deck amphibious assault ships, capable of carrying multiple helicopters, rotary aircraft or up to six VTOL jets. The 22-year-old vessel was stationed in Japan for years before being transferred back to San Diego for a major overhaul in 2018.
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