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Navy Will Dismantle USS Bonhomme Richard

Smoke rises from the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego in July, after an explosion and fire on board the ship. The Navy announced Monday the ship will be decommissioned.
Denis Poroy
Smoke rises from the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego in July, after an explosion and fire on board the ship. The Navy announced Monday the ship will be decommissioned.

The U.S. Navy announced Monday it will decommission, rather than repair or repurpose, the USS Bonhomme Richard because of extensive damage from a fire while the vessel was in port. The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship was docked in San Diego when a fire broke out on July 12. It took five days to extinguish the inferno.

Ultimately, 40 sailors and 23 civilians were treated for minor injuries, according to the Navy. The ship was not so fortunate.

Repairing or repurposing the ship, according to Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, would be a billion-dollar battle.

"We did not come to this decision lightly," Braithwaite said in a statement. "Following an extensive material assessment in which various courses of action were considered and evaluated, we came to the conclusion that it is not fiscally responsible to restore her."

The Navy determined that the cost of restoring the ship could exceed $3 billion and it would take five to seven years from start to finish. Rebuilding and repurposing the ship could exceed $1 billion. The Navy says it could construct a new hospital ship, submarine tender, or command-and-control ship for the same price, or less.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but NPR previously reported that the Navy questioned a sailor in connection with the incident. The Navy said investigations are ongoing.

The 844-foot ship had an illustrious career over its 20-plus years of service. It participated in both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The USS Bonhomme Richard also aided in humanitarian efforts in Indonesia and Japan.

The timeline for dismantling the ship is still being sorted out by the Navy. But the inactivation of the ship will allow systems and components to be removed and used in other ships, the Navy said.

The ship may be gone, but it may only be a matter of time before a new Bonhomme Richard sets sail. The ship that went up in flames in July is the third to bear the name.

The second Bon Homme Richard was an aircraft carrier that was decommissioned in 1971.

But it was the first ship that gave to history one of the most famous statements by a U.S. military commander.

The Duc de Duras, a 900-ton merchant vessel, was donated to the United States by King Louis XVI of France in 1779. The ship was commanded by Capt. John Paul Jones, who renamed it BonHomme Richard after Benjamin Franklin, then serving as U.S. ambassador to France, according to the Navy.

Jones and the BonHomme Richard became known for their defeat of the English warship HMS Serapis at the Battle of Flamborough Head off the coast of England. The BonHomme Richard was gravely damaged and its flag knocked to the deck when the English asked Jones whether he surrendered.

Jones responded by calling out, "I have not yet begun to fight!" He then sent 40 Marines and sailors to the Serapis with grenades and muskets. The BonHomme Richard secured America's first defeat of an English vessel in English waters before ultimately sinking in September 1779.

Dustin Jones is an intern with NPR's News Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.
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