Navy disciplines officers over massive Calif. ship fire in ’20
WASHINGTON — Navy leaders have disciplined more than 20 senior officers and sailors in connection with widespread leadership and other failures that contributed to the July 2020 arson fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard.
The most significant actions were taken against members of the ship’s leadership team, including letters of reprimand and pay cuts for the former commander and executive officer.
And Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro issued a letter of censure to retired Vice Adm. Richard Brown, who was the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time of the fire.
The ship was undergoing a two-year, $250 million upgrade pierside in San Diego when the fire broke out. About 115 sailors were on board, and nearly 60 were treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries.
The failure to extinguish or contain the fire led to temperatures exceeding 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit
in some areas, turning sections of the ship into molten metal that flowed into other parts of the ship.
A Navy report last year concluded that the massive five-day blaze was preventable and unacceptable, and that there were lapses in training, coordination, communications, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance and overall command and control.
While one sailor — Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays — has been charged with setting the fire, the report found that failings by three dozen officers and sailors either led to the ship’s loss or contributed to it.
The Navy on Friday laid out the disciplinary actions taken by Adm. Samuel Paparo, current commander of the Pacific Fleet. In most cases, Paparo issued letters in the sailors’ personnel files that ranged in severity. In many cases a disciplinary letter can be career-ending.
According to the Navy, Paparo gave punitive letters of reprimand and pay forfeitures to Capt. Gregory Scott Thoroman, the ship’s former commanding officer, and to Capt. Michael Ray, the former executive
officer. Former Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez was given a punitive letter of reprimand.
Others who received letters in their files were Rear Adm. Scott Brown, who was director of fleet maintenance, and Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage, commander of the Navy Regional Maintenance Center.
Mays is facing a court martial, and was charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. He has denied setting the fire. Mays set the fire because he was disgruntled after dropping out of Navy SEAL training, prosecutors said. His defense lawyers said there was no physical evidence connecting him to the blaze.
The Navy report on the fire issued last year spread blame across a wide range of ranks and responsibilities, from Brown to senior commanders, lower-ranking sailors and civilian program managers. It cited 17 for failures that “directly” led to the loss of the ship, while 17 others “contributed” to the loss of the ship.
Two other sailors were faulted for not effectively helping the fire response.