US sailor found not guilty of destroying billion-dollar Navy ship

An earlier investigation revealed that no one on board knew how to press the fire control button

A US Navy sailor was found not guilty on Friday of starting a fire that led to the complete destruction of the $1.2 billion USS Bonhomme Richard in 2020. The Navy alleges that “Discontent” deliberately set on fire, an investigation revealed that the entire crew was completely unprepared for a fire.

Sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays was found guilty by a US Navy court in San Diego, California of aggravated arson and willful damage to the ship. Speaking to reporters outside court, Mays said he “So grateful that this is finally over.”

Naval prosecutors allege that Mays, 19 years old at the time of the 2020 fire, was “Discontent” after leaving the Navy SEAL selection, and put the cardboard boxes down in the vehicle storage area on the amphibious assault ship. However, no physical evidence has been found linking Mays to the fire.

The fire spread throughout the ship, which was docked in San Diego at the time for a $250 million upgrade. Temperatures in some parts of the ship rose to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit (649C), and the ship burned for four days.

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San Diego Harbor Police Department boats fend off fire aboard the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, California, U.S. July 12, 2020. © US Navy/ Lt.  John J. Mike / REUTERS
Lack of ‘basic firefighting knowledge’, failed exercises and poor leadership are blamed for the five-day fire on a US Navy warship

About 60 sailors were injured, and the USS Bonhomme Richard, which cost $1.2 billion to build in the late 1990s, was decommissioned and sold for scrap.

Despite the Navy’s efforts to place the blame on Mays, an internal investigation completed last year found that three dozen officers on board the ship could be considered responsible for the hell. One report said that “Repeated failure” by one “Inadequately prepared crew” lead to a “Ineffective fire response.”

These failures include training errors, poor communication, and the fact that “No members of the crew” know where or how to use the fire control button. Even when the button was pressed, the report continued, about 87% of all fire stations on board had faulty or untested equipment.

As a result, 28 people, including the then Pacific Fleet commander Vice Admiral Richard Brown, were formally punished by the Navy for the loss of the ship.


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