LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Crews have extinguished all known fires aboard a U.S. Navy warship that burnt for four days at its mooring in San Diego, a top admiral said on Thursday, but it was still unclear if the Bonhomme Richard could be saved.
Firefighters were combing through the 844-foot-long (257-m) amphibious assault ship to make sure that all flames were out before a formal investigation could begin into the cause of the blaze, Rear Admiral Philip Sobeck told a news briefing at U.S. Naval Base San Diego.
“We do not know the origin of the fire. We do not know the extent of the damage. It is too early to make any predictions or promises of what the future of the ship will be,” said Sobeck, commander of the Navy’s Expeditionary Strike Group Three.
The flames erupted on Sunday morning, followed by at least one large explosion aboard the Bonhomme Richard, which was commissioned in 1998 with a name dating to the U.S. Revolutionary war.
Sobeck said 63 people - 40 sailors and 23 civilians - were treated for minor injuries during the four days of firefighting from land, air and sea that followed, Sobeck said. None were hospitalized.
“The bottom line is every sailor is a firefighter and we certainly proved that,” the admiral said.
The Bonhomme Richard, whose size ranks second in the U.S. Navy fleet to that of an aircraft carrier, sustained severe damage from the flames, leaving the ship listing to the starboard side, its superstructure collapsed and melted.
Sobeck said he believed the ship could be repaired and returned to duty but that the Navy had not yet decided whether to undertake the massive task.
“The Bonhomme Richard has proved its survival. It’s in stable condition all the way through,” he said.
The ship was undergoing repairs at the time the fire broke out, so only about 160 of its 1,000 crew members were aboard and all major munitions had already been removed, Navy officials have said.
The ship marks the third incarnation of the Bonhomme Richard, dating to when France gave a frigate to the United States and the father of its Navy, John Paul Jones, at the time of the Revolutionary War. He named it Bonhomme Richard.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney