US sailor found not guilty of destroying billion-dollar Navy ship

An earlier investigation found that nobody on the vessel knew how to press the fire control button

A US Navy sailor was found not guilty on Friday of starting a fire that resulted in the complete destruction of the $1.2 billion USS Bonhomme Richard in 2020. While the Navy alleged that the “disgruntled” sailor intentionally set the blaze, an investigation found the entire crew had was unprepared for a fire.

Seaman Ryan Sawyer Mays was cleared of aggravated arson and the wilful hazarding of a vessel by a US Navy court in San Diego, California. Speaking to reporters outside the court, Mays said that he was “so grateful that this is finally over.”

Navy prosecutors alleged that Mays, who was 19 at the time of the fire in 2020, was “disgruntled” after dropping out of Navy SEAL selection, and set cardboard boxes alight in a vehicle storage area aboard the amphibious assault ship. However, no physical evidence was found linking Mays to the fire.

The fire spread throughout the ship, which was docked in San Diego at the time for a $250 million upgrade. Temperatures in some parts of the vessel rose to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit (649C), and the ship burned for four days. 

Some 60 sailors were injured, and the USS Bonhomme Richard, which cost $1.2 billion to build in the late 1990s, was decommissioned and sold for scrap.

Despite the Navy’s attempts to pin the blame on Mays, an internal investigation completed last year found that three dozen officers on board the ship could be considered responsible for the inferno. A report stated that “repeated failures” by an “inadequately prepared crew” led to an “ineffective fire response.”

These failures included lapses in training, poor communication, and the fact that “no member of the crew” knew the location of, or how to use, a fire control button. Even if the button had been pushed, the report continued, some 87% of all fire stations on board had faulty equipment or had not been inspected. 

As a result, 28 people, including then-Pacific Fleet commander Vice Admiral Richard Brown, were formally punished by the Navy for the loss of the vessel.

You can share this story on social media: