Bonhomme Richard Fire Trial Emblematic Of Larger Issues
Bonhomme Richard Fire Trial Emblematic Of Larger Issues
In July, 2020 a fire broke out on the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard (LHD6) in San Diego. This week the trial of Seaman Recruit Ryan Sawyer Mays, charged with aggravated arson in the fire, began. Mays is also charged with hazarding a vessel, which carries a potential penalty of life in prison. Every. Single. Action. In this situation is emblematic of the larger problems that afflict the Navy and our military as a whole. If this is not rectified yesterday, our military won’t be any good against the Rhode Island League of Women Voters, let alone the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
Last year, I wrote a post about issues in the Navy after the Bonhomme Richard fire and focused on the zero defects mentality. The reports I read said the Navy was focused on administrative tasks rather than training as they would fight. Training for real world happenings, like a fire on a ship or submarine.
The Navy NCIS went looking for a guilty party or parties. The Command Investigation did a very thorough job and found much to fault from top to bottom. According to the account in the Navy Times, the Captain and crew did not fight the fire, but stood on the pier and watched the ship burn, not that they could have done much. More from the Navy Times:
The command investigation, led by a three-star admiral, sent a team of investigators on a prodigious and methodical examination of the fire. As the months passed, the investigators uncovered in exhaustive detail an astonishing array of failures — broken or missing fire hoses, poorly trained, improperly stored hazardous material — that had primed the ship for a calamitous fire.
Was it really arson? Or, did negiligence cause the fire.
The command investigation traced the problems back to when the Bonhomme Richard docked for maintenance and Navy leaders throughout the ranks abandoned responsibility for the ship’s safety. Risks mounted, and nobody paid attention. All told, investigators determined that the actions of 17 sailors and officers directly led to the loss of the ship, and those of 17 more, including five admirals, contributed. The long list was a staggering indictment of everyone from sailors to top admirals who had failed in their jobs.
Maybe they were reading anti-racist screeds or practicing inclusive pronouns so they were much too busy to practice good, orderly, shipboard discipline. Eighty-seven percent of the firefighting equipment was inoperable so they must have been doing something else. No one knew where the firefighting foam button was?
As the Navy persecutes Mays, let’s look at the evidence to see if it was arson. Again, from the Navy Times:
Within days of the fire being extinguished, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators, who co-led the criminal inquiry with NCIS, stepped into the watery shell of the ship, looking for what ignited the blaze.
The agents determined that the fire had started in an area of the ship known as the “lower V,” which normally stowed dozens of Marine Corps tanks and other vehicles, but during the overhaul was being used as a catchall, according to testimony and reports. On the day of the fire, the lower V had been packed with two fueled forklifts, a man lift, pallets of hand sanitizer, lithium batteries and other combustibles, wood beams, scaffolding, rope and thick, tall cardboard crates, some stacked two high.
A warship is an unusual scene for ATF investigators. They turned to the ship’s damage control assistant, Lt. Cmdr. Felix Perez, for a tour. Perez was the officer directly in charge of the firefighting hoses and systems aboard the ships, training sailors to fight fires and ensuring the ship followed fire prevention precautions.
Perez guided the agents through the ship, stopping at the fire stations closest to where the fire began. At three, hoses were missing, cut or otherwise unusable. Perez told the agents he or his staff had walked the ship two days before the fire, and it was nearly impossible they had overlooked the fire stations, according to an NCIS affidavit about the case.
The stations, Perez told the agents, must have been tampered with.
Was Perez covering his backside? Yes.
Early on, investigators realized Perez had not done his job well, according to a person close to the investigation who spoke to ProPublica on the condition their name wouldn’t be used so they could speak freely about sensitive matters. The fire stations were inoperable from broad neglect — and Perez and other leaders had failed to recognize the disintegration of the ship’s condition.
Nothing was done by the book on the Bonhomme Richard. Remember Mays targeted for arson by the NCIS:
Just days before the fire, Mays had angrily texted his division officer, complaining about having to live among contractors who were doing work that was “hazardous as fuck.” A worker was welding near his bunk as he slept, and Mays said he was burned by a stray spark. In 2015, a major fire started on another warship in a shipyard with similar conditions: sailors moving aboard while “hot work” was being done.
The command investigators hung posters of ship drawings all over the walls, each one tracking a different potential problem. While NCIS’ early impressions of the case included a theory of sabotage, another picture altogether was becoming clear to command investigators: The Bonhomme Richard had been a tinderbox.
Seaman Recruit Mays is an immature 20 year old on trial. He complained he just wanted to be a SEAL, but had already run that bell one time. I would bet he did NOT cause the fire on the Bonhomme Richard. Maybe someone else did. Or maybe something else did.
But this is emblematic of our whole military the low guy on the totem pole must be responsible. The guys at the top are going to cover themselves and each other. Someone wrote that the Joes in the military don’t have any pride and just want to collect their checks. I beg to differ. From the top down the military, necessarily, must be squared away, trained, and disciplined. Just must be done in this case.
Featured Image: U.S. Pacific Fleet/Flickr.com/cropped/Creative Commons