Once upon a time, the naval ship USS Bonhomme Richard looked like this:
This past July, for nearly five days it looked like this:
The ship was at Naval Base San Diego undergoing maintenance, and a fire started on a lower deck. At least 63 sailors and civilians were injured, and noxious smoke covered southern San Diego County for days.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated, and in the months since, the Navy has been considering what to do with the ravaged ship.
The Bonhomme Richard was an 844-foot-long hot mess.
An expensive hot mess. That maintenance it was undergoing?
According to a November 30 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the ship was “at the end of a two-year, $250 million upgrade to accommodate the F-35B fighter.”
That’s $250 million tax dollars up in smoke.
Plus the original cost of the ship: $761 million when the contract was signed in 1992.
I remember seeing the stories on the news back in July and – I confess – snickering as our local reporters stumbled over the ship’s French name, pronounced baan HAAM ree SHARD.
And what, I wondered, was a U.S. Navy vessel doing with a French name, anyway?
Some research revealed that this is:
“…the third ship to bear the name first given by John Paul (“I have not yet begun to fight!”) Jones in 1779 to his Continental Navy frigate, named in French Good Man Richard in honor of Benjamin Franklin, the publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanac who at the time served as U.S. ambassador to France.”
Founding Father Franklin (above) would be bummed to know that, according to the Union-Tribune, the ship has a new name:
The Navy has announced that the Bonhomme Richard is going to be scrapped.
The Navy assessed the damage and the cost of repairs. About 60 percent of it – the flight deck, the island and many of the 14 decks immediately below them – would need to be completely replaced:
Cost: Estimated to be between $2.5 billion and $3.2 billion, and take five to seven years.
Refurbishing the ship into a different configuration – as a hospital ship, for example – would cost more than $1 billion, exceeding the cost of building a new hospital ship.
So the Navy is going to scrap the ship, at a cost of “only $30 million.”
Only our government would say “only $30 million.”
“Only $30 million” of our tax dollars.
The Navy calls it “decommissioning,” and says it will take between “nine months and one year.”
I’ll certainly admit that as a civilian, I don’t know Navy procedures. But this seems like rather a long time, and rather a lot of money, to transition a ship from “active” to “inactive.”
Sign some paperwork in triplicate and – voila, yes?
Plus, this is far from the first time the Navy has decommissioned a ship.
In fact, the Navy has several locations set up for just this situation: A Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, or NISMF, because everything in the government must have an acronym.
There’s an NISMF in Philadelphia, in Pearl Harbor, and this one, in Bremerton, WA:
Looks like there’s plenty of room in Bremerton for the Bonhomme Richard, so just tow it up there and park it, yes?
Should that cost $30 million taxpayer dollars?
I think NOT.
But here’s an even better idea.
Somewhere between San Diego and Bremerton, sink the Bonhomme Richard.
Yes! The Navy has done this many times, too, and for a good purpose:
My research shows the Navy has sunk a number ships to create artificial reefs, because the ships:
“…provide hard surfaces where algae and invertebrates such as barnacles, corals, and oysters attach; the accumulation of attached marine life in turn provides intricate structure and food for fish.”
Those fish attract larger fish, and eventually – where there was an empty ocean floor, there’s now an ecosystem:
And some of those artificial reefs become dive sites, like the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany after it was sunk by the government in 2006 off the coast of Florida.
The Oriskany was once this:
It’s now “the world’s largest artificial reef” and looks like this:
Named one of the top ten wreck diving sites in the world and nicknamed the “Great Carrier Reef” (a takeoff on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef), the site is:
“…a habitat for all kinds of marine life from small tropical fish such as blennies, damselfish and angelfish to large game fish such as snapper, grouper and massive amberjack. Pelagic fish species can sometimes be spotted racing by and even whale sharks and manta rays have been seen cruising around the tower of the carrier.”
Dive sites attract thousands of divers, and that’s good for the local economy.
Of course, recycling the Bonhomme Richard into an artificial reef will cost taxpayer dollars.
But I’m betting most taxpayers – including me – would rather see this: