By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy sailor was charged on Thursday with starting a fire last year that burned for four days on the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, injuring more than 60 people and destroying the vessel.
The sailor, who was not identified by name, was charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and could face court martial, Navy Commander Sean Robertson, a spokesman for the U.S. 3rd Fleet, said in a statement.
"The Sailor was a member of Bonhomme Richard's crew at the time and is accused of starting the fire," Robertson said.
The Navy did not say if the sailor was accused of intentionally setting the blaze, which broke out July 12, 2020, in the lower cargo hold of the Bonhomme Richard.
More than 60 people, including about 40 sailors, were treated for minor injuries during four days of fighting flames on the 844-foot-long (257-meter) warship, which was docked for maintenance at its home port at U.S. Naval Base San Diego.
The Bonhomme Richard, whose size ranks second in the U.S. Navy fleet to that of an aircraft carrier, sustained severe damage, leaving it listing to the starboard side, its superstructure collapsed and melted.
Because the ship was undergoing repairs at the time, only about 160 crew members were aboard and major munitions had already been removed from the vessel as a standard safety practice.
Navy officials said last August that they were investigating the fire as a possible arson.
In November the Navy said it would decommission the Bonhomme Richard, which was commissioned in 1998 and designed to carry U.S. Marine Corps attack helicopters and ground troops into battle. Repairs to the Wasp-class ship, named after a Revolutionary War frigate, would have taken years and cost more than $3 billion, according to the Navy.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Leslie Adler)