Former Bonhomme Richard Captain Docked $5,000 in Pay in the Most Severe Punishment Over the Blaze

Sailors and federal firefighters respond to a fire on board the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego.
Sailors and federal firefighters respond to a fire on board the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 13, 2020. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Omar Powell/U.S. Navy photo)

Navy records of disciplinary proceedings for the leaders of the now-scrapped Bonhomme Richard have revealed the punishments that were levied against the ship's top sailors over their failures to properly fight the fire -- failures that were partially responsible for the loss of the warship.

According to documents first released by the Navy last week, Adm. Sam Paparo, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, found a trio of the ship's top sailors, along with three other leaders aboard the ship, guilty in failing to follow regulations, as well as other charges, in December 2021.

The ship's commanding officer, Capt. Gregory Thoroman, and his second-in-command, Capt. David Ray, were both given written reprimands and docked $5,000 in pay for their roles in what a Navy investigation called a series of "repeated failures" by an "inadequately prepared crew" that led to "an ineffective fire response" in July 2020.


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The San Diego Union-Tribune was the first outlet to report on the documents last Tuesday.

Earlier this fall, the criminal case against the man the Navy claimed started the fire -- Seaman Ryan Sawyer Mays -- fell apart and Mays was acquitted of all charges on Sept. 30. Most of the Navy's case leaned on shifting eyewitness accounts that Mays was spotted in the area where the fire started, and the service decided to push on with the case even after a legal officer ruled there wasn't enough evidence.

Ultimately, the Navy's investigation identified 36 individuals who contributed to the loss of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship. As of July, 21 people faced punishment that ranged from the six nonjudicial punishments detailed in the recently released documents to two letters to former sailors documenting substandard performance.

Six sailors received "no-action determinations."

Out of all of these outcomes, the forfeiture of less than half a month's pay for the ship's commander and executive officer appear to be the most significant punishments awarded over the ship's loss.

The punishment details released last week are some of the last missing puzzle pieces to the Navy's response to the tragic four-day fire that, while without casualties, led to the loss of a 22-year-old ship. Repairs would have cost $2.5 billion and taken five years.

Thoroman's records -- which, like all the others, were heavily redacted -- charged the senior officer violated Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice when he failed to follow orders and "negligently failed in his absolute responsibility for the safety, well-being and efficiency of the ship, as it was his duty to do."

Similarly, Ray, the ship's executive officer, was found to have "failed to ensure that firefighting safety precautions aboard [the ship amid a repair period] were understood and strictly observed" and "he negligently failed to keep the command advised" of the ship's readiness to fight fires.

Both men forfeited $5,000 in pay, less than half of either officer's monthly paycheck.

The ship's top enlisted sailor -- Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez Jr. -- received a written reprimand for failing "to actively teach, uphold and enforce standards" and for not advising Thoroman "in matters pertaining to welfare, utilization and training of sailors."

Bonhomme Richard's chief engineering officer, a damage control assistant and a chief damage controlman also received written reprimands for their roles in the ship's destruction, but the Navy withheld their names in the released documents.

The reprimands were announced in July, and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro took the opportunity to also write a letter of censure to Vice Adm. Richard Brown, who was commander of Naval Surface Forces for the Pacific Fleet at the time but had since retired from the Navy.

"This fire could have been prevented with adequate oversight into the ship's material condition and the crew's readiness to combat a fire," Del Toro told the Navy in a message in July.

Ahead of his censure, Brown spoke to Defense News and painted a chaotic picture of a confused response to the fire, describing admirals who were unsure of who was in charge or unwilling to step up.


-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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