Navy sailor charged with setting blaze that destroyed billion-dollar ship last year

The Navy announced last year it would scrap the fire-ravaged ship.

July 30, 2021, 12:02 PM

The U.S. Navy has filed charges against a sailor in connection with the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego last July, the service announced Thursday.

"Evidence collected during the investigation is sufficient to direct a preliminary hearing in accordance with due process under the military justice system. The Sailor was a member of Bonhomme Richard’s crew at the time and is accused of starting the fire," 3rd Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Sean Robertson said in a statement.

In this July 12, 2020, file photo, boats combat a fire on board the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego.
US Navy via Reuters, FILE

Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, the 3rd Fleet commander, is considering court-martial charges, according to the statement.

The admiral has set a preliminary hearing before any trial proceedings, "including whether or not there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed and to offer a recommendation as to the disposition of the case," Robertson said.

The accused sailor, a seaman apprentice, is being charged with aggravated arson and willfully hazarding a vessel under articles 126 and 110 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice but is not currently detained, Robertson told ABC News.

The Navy has not named the sailor.

Last November, U.S. officials told ABC News a sailor was being questioned by investigators about possible arson after allegedly starting the catastrophic ship fire. Robertson would not say whether this was the same person now being charged.

The Navy announced late last year it would scrap the aging amphibious assault ship.

Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department boats combat a fire on board the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, Calif., July 12, 2020.
US Navy via Reuters, FILE

The Bonhomme Richard was commissioned in 1998 at a cost of $750 million. Adjusted to 2020 dollars, that's $1.2 billion.

The damage to the ship from the days-long fire, that at times reached 1,000 degrees, was too much to repair for a ship that had already been in service for almost a quarter of a century, according to the Navy.