An explosion on a United States Navy ship moored at a base in California set off a major fire on Sunday injuring 21 people – 17 of them sailors, according to the chief of naval operations.
The USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault vessel, was in port at its home base in San Diego for maintenance when the explosion took place at about 8.30am local time on Sunday (15:30 GMT).
“We are grateful for the quick and immediate response of local, base, and shipboard firefighters aboard BHR,” the naval-operations chief wrote on Twitter, referring to the Bonhomme Richard. “Our thoughts and prayers are with our BHR Sailors, their families, and our emergency responders who continue to fight the fire.”
Thick smoke could be seen billowing from large sections of the 844-foot (257-metre) warship, as firefighters on tugboats tried to control the blaze using water cannon.
— Naval Surface Forces (@SurfaceWarriors) July 12, 2020
The injured were taken to hospital with minor injuries. Several firefighters reportedly also suffered burns and smoke inhalation.
Rear Admiral Charles Brown, a US Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, said the injured sailors had mostly sustained smoke inhalation and minor burns. About 160 sailors were on board at the time and all have been accounted for, the Us Navy said. The ship normally carries a crew of about 1,000.
Two guided-missile destroyers docked nearby – the USS Fitzgerald and USS Russell – were moved to piers farther from the burning vessel within the next 90 minutes, the Navy said in a statement. Smoke from the fire appeared to ease around 3pm local time (22:00 GMT).
San Diego-based Navy spokesman Mike Raney said the precise origin and cause of the blaze had yet to be determined, but there was no immediate evidence of foul play. Munitions carried aboard warships are typically offloaded before the vessels enter port for maintenance as a security precaution, he told the Reuters news agency.
The fire broke out below the waterline of the ship, making it more difficult to bring under control, and probably spread to the vessel’s fuel systems, according to a civilian contractor on the scene who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The Bonhomme Richard, commissioned in 1998, is designed to carry US Marine Corps attack helicopters and ground troops into battle.
The vessel has participated in several military operations over the years and also has appeared in a pair of Hollywood films – including the 2012 sci-fi action movie “Battleship,” starring Liam Neeson and singer Rihanna.
The ship is named in honour of Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers and author of the influential Poor Richard’s Almanack, which he wrote under the pseudonym Poor Richard or Richard Saunders.