Explosion rocks US warship in San Diego leaving 21 injured, cause unknown as responders battle to put out fire
Twenty-one people, including 17 sailors, were injured in an explosion onboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) at the San Diego naval base on Sunday (July 12) morning, according to Navy officials. They confirmed the news in a statement to CNN and said the injured sailors, along with four civilians, were being treated for non-life-threatening injuries at a local hospital. Later on Sunday, Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck told journalists that the sailors were in stable condition.
US Pacific Fleet Naval Surface Forces said on Sunday that people were evacuated from the ill-fated vessel as soon as the fire began, CNN reported. The ship was carrying around a million gallons of fuel and a big quantity of ammunition. Smoke and ash were seen billowing out from the amphibious assault ship after the fire broke out. Fire responders and rescue teams were seen fighting the three-alarm fire on the vessel that broke out around 9 am on Sunday, San Diego fire authorities said.
About 200 sailors and officials were present onboard the 840-foot ship at the time of the fire. Routine maintenance of the ship was underway when the fire started. The ship has a crew numbering nearly 1,000. According to CNN, San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell feared that the warship could burn for days "down to the waterline".
According to a report in The Drive, loud blasts were heard from the ship but no one could not confirm what was causing them. It said the last major pier-side incident for an American navy ship in San Diego happened in 2018 when one of the dry docks at the nearby NASSCO shipyards holding the under-construction USS Miguel Keith flooded, causing big damage to the vessel.
As far as fire disasters in the navy are concerned, the latest incident could end up as the worst one since the fire that broke out onboard the Los Angeles class nuclear fast-attack submarine USS Miami eight years ago. Sobeck though could not confirm the reason behind the fire as initial reports gave a hint that a "sort of a backdraft" or overpressurization as a result of the compartments heating-up could be the reason.
In a statement, Federal Fire San Diego Division Chief Rob Bondurant said: "Federal Fire is rotating their crews aboard the ship with US Navy firefighting crews from the waterfront to fight the fire in order to find the seat of the fire and extinguish it. Navy Region Southwest tugs are also continuously combating the fire from the bay."
The navy moved two ships — USS Fitzgerald and USS Russel— that were present nearby the affected vessel to safety, it was announced in a statement. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was briefed on the situation, defense sources said. The keel of the ship was laid down in 1995 and it was delivered to the navy three years later. It has the capacity to deploy and land helicopters, small boats and even amphibious vehicles.
Lawrence B Bremen, a professor of admiralty and international maritime law at New York’s Fordham University, told Daily Mail that the ship's age could see it getting damaged more. He said the fire could be more devastating if it reached the engine room and other tight spaces with the machinery. "The heat of a fire of this nature can warp the steel, and that can be a major problem for any ship," he said, adding: "On an older ship, it's even more of a problem."