Arson is suspected as the cause of a July 12 fire that left extensive damage to the USS Bonhomme Richard and a U.S. Navy sailor is being questioned as a potential suspect, a senior defense official said Wednesday.
The sailor was being questioned but was not detained, the official said. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The amphibious assault ship burned for more than four days and was the Navy’s worst U.S. warship fire outside of combat in recent memory.
The ship was left with extensive structural, electrical and mechanical damage and its future remains uncertain.
The Bonhomme Richard is among the few in the U.S. fleet that can act as a mini aircraft carrier. If the amphibious assault ship is not repaired, it could cost the Navy up to $4 billion to replace it, according to defense analysts.
The ship was nearing the end of a two-year upgrade estimated to cost $250 million.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday visited the ship after the blaze was extinguished.
He said then that the Navy thought it had the fire under control only hours after it broke out the morning of July 12 in the ship’s lower storage area, where cardboard boxes, rags and other maintenance supplies were stored.
But winds coming off the San Diego Bay whipped up the flames, and the fire spread up the elevator shafts and the exhaust stacks.
Then two explosions — one heard as far as 13 miles away — caused it to grow even bigger, Gilday said.
The Navy was looking into what caused the explosions, though Gilday said at that time that they had not found any indications of foul play.
More than 60 sailors and civilians were treated for minor injuries, heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.
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