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Fires are starting on US warships in port more often than reported, watchdog finds, and it’s giving the Navy a ‘false sense of security’

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uss bonhomme richardSAN DIEGO (July 13, 2020) Firefighting efforts to combat the blaze aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).

US Navy

  • Fires are breaking out on Navy ships in port more often than they are reported, a government watchdog found.
  • The GAO flagged multiple problems with the reporting system, as well as how lessons are learned from fires.
  • It said the incomplete picture has “given the Navy a false sense of security.”

More fires are breaking out on US Navy ships while in port than are reported, so the service doesn’t have a clear picture of its fire problem and is not learning the lessons it should, a government watchdog found, noting the deficiencies leave the Navy vulnerable to the possibility of a catastrophe.

The results of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study conducted after the Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard burnt to a crisp while in port in July 2020, found that while larger fires are often reported, smaller ones have a tendency to be improperly reported or go unreported due to inadequate training or a culture that isn’t emphasizing proper reporting.

The underreporting issue “has given the Navy a false sense of security with fire incidents and an incomplete picture of the true extent of the problem,” the GAO stated, citing discussions with Navy officials.

Major incidents like the Bonhomme Richard fire draw more attention. That ship suffered several billions of dollars in damage as flames with temperatures in excess of 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit burned through 11 of 14 decks over the better part of a week, forcing the Navy to scrap a ship that was being upgraded to carry fifth-generation fighter aircraft when the fire broke out and was nowhere near the end of its service life. Others may be getting overlooked.

Navy USS Bonhomme RichardA fire burns aboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, July 12, 2020.

US Navy/MCS2 Austin Haist via Getty Images

Data from Naval Safety Command indicates there were 1,100 fire incidents of varying severity on ships in port between May 2012 and September 2022, and between between May 2008 and July 2020, there were 15 “major fires” — fires the GAO said “progressed beyond the initial stage, beyond the ability of the initial responders” to control.

Reported fires are frequently recorded in a mix of systems rather than a single system, and lessons in fire safety are not adequately shared and analyzed across the service, the GAO found, a startling conclusion given that shipboard fires are one of the biggest threats ship crews train against.

A 2019 Naval Safety Command assessment found that 92% of all of the fire incidents that occurred on ships while in port during the two prior years were not recorded in the Navy’s reporting system. The GAO reported that “none of the systems that the Naval Safety Command used to generate the fire-safety reports were compatible with the reporting system of record in use at that time, and fire reports were incomplete.”

The GAO study, which was conducted between November 2021 and April 2023, found that this continues to be a problem for the service. The Navy did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment Monday.

Fires when a ship is in port, particularly when it is undergoing repairs and maintenance, are not uncommon. As the GAO notes in its report, fires can be caused by sparks ignited during repair processes, such as welding, and the presence of various flammable materials.

In addition to reporting problems, the GAO also flagged Navy failures to learn from past fires, noting in its report that “the Navy does not have a process for consistently collecting, analyzing, and sharing these lessons learned.”

“As a result,” the GAO assessed, “the Navy has lost lessons learned over time—such as steps that a ship can take to improve fire safety.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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