Sailor in ‘arson attack’ that destroyed warship, injuring 63 and costing £2.2bn

A sailor has been charged by the US Navy with an arson attack on the USS Bonhomme Richard that ripped through and destroyed the ship that would have cost up to £2.2bn to repair and led to injuries to 63 people.

Officials have said that the unnamed sailor is accused of starting the fire and "evidence collected" during a probe into what happened is enough to start a preliminary hearing.

The sailor, who holds the rank of seaman apprentice, was a member of the ship’s crew at the time and while he started the fire it is not being suggested by the Navy that he intended to destroy the ship.

"An impartial hearing officer will make determinations and recommendations required by the UCMJ prior to any further trial proceedings," reportedly read the US Navy statement.

The ship was having an overhaul in San Diego when it caught fire and took four days to put out with hundreds of military and civilian fire crews involved.

"We have not seen a fire of this magnitude in a Navy ship in recent memory, at least in my career.

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"So very extensive in terms of the damage and the intensity," Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday said in a press conference at the time.

The ship was eventually decommissioned as repairing it would have cost up to 2.2billion and take five to seven years, said Rear Adm Eric H Ver Hage of the Navy Regional Maintenance Center at the time.

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A hearing will determine if there is enough evidence against the sailor to court-martial him. Navy officials have said there is a separate investigation that will decide if action should be taken against people responsible for allowing the fire to get so badly out of control.

The fire started in the ship's lower storage area, where cardboard boxes and other maintenance supplies were stored.

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Winds coming off the San Diego Bay whipped up the flames which spread up the elevator shafts and exhaust stacks.

Then two explosions that could be heard as far as 13 miles away caused it to grow even bigger. The fire sent smoke billowing over San Diego, and officials told people to avoid exercising outdoors.

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