Ships, Aircraft Leaving Naval Station Mayport in Advance of Hurricane Ian

Ships and aircraft are departing Naval Station Mayport as Hurricane Ian heads toward Florida, the service announced on Tuesday. Littoral Combat Ship USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) was the first ship to leave Mayport Tuesday, according to a Navy press release. Three other ships, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft sortied from Mayport ahead of the hurricane’s landfall. Six […]

National Weather Service Image

Ships and aircraft are departing Naval Station Mayport as Hurricane Ian heads toward Florida, the service announced on Tuesday.

Littoral Combat Ship USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) was the first ship to leave Mayport Tuesday, according to a Navy press release. Three other ships, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft sortied from Mayport ahead of the hurricane’s landfall.

Six ships will remain in Mayport tied to piers with heavy mooring. Any aircraft staying will be hangered between Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport, the service said.

“Hurricane preparations began months ago through a Navy-wide exercise ahead of the hurricane season,” said Rear Adm. Jim Aiken, commander U.S. 4th Fleet. “Our sailors will now focus on the safe execution of those planning efforts to enable sustained fleet operations.”

Rear Adm. Wes McCall, commander of Navy Region Southeast, also issued evacuations for non-essential active-duty service members, civilian employees, drilling reservists and some dependents, according to the release.

“Given the storm’s unpredictability and the forecasted winds and storm surge, civilian authorities along the west coast have issued mandatory evacuations,” McCall said in the release. “Since these evacuations will affect our military personnel and their families I have authorized the evacuations of those personnel located in the mandatory evacuation zones in Florida.”

Ian is expected to make landfall on Wednesday as a category four hurricane.

Carrier USS Nimitz Still Sidelined Over Fresh Water Contamination

USS Nimitz (CVN-68) is stuck pierside at Naval Air Station North Island due to ongoing problems with the ship’s drinking water system, two officials familiar with the matter told USNI News on Tuesday. The Navy delayed Nimitz‘s plans to leave the pier and the ship is using San Diego’s water while it works out the […]

USS Nimitz (CVN-68) departing San Diego, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2022. USNI News Photo

USS Nimitz (CVN-68) is stuck pierside at Naval Air Station North Island due to ongoing problems with the ship’s drinking water system, two officials familiar with the matter told USNI News on Tuesday.
The Navy delayed Nimitz‘s plans to leave the pier and the ship is using San Diego’s water while it works out the issues with the potable water system, a Navy spokesman told USNI News.

Nimitz‘s scheduled underway date from NAS North Island was postponed in order to conduct further testing and evaluation of its potable water system. The ship has been connected to the city of San Diego’s water supply since Sept. 17 and continues to provide fresh water to the crew. The health and wellbeing of our Sailors is a top priority, and the internal potable water system remains offline until we can be certain it can produce the highest quality water to the crew,” Ens. Bryan Blair said in a statement.
“Laboratory tests were conducted on wastewater samples taken on Sept. 19 upon Nimitz’s arrival at Naval Air Station North Island. Those tests did not detect measurable amounts of fuel hydrocarbons in the wastewater. Additional testing was conducted Sept. 21 on water samples from the ship’s potable water tanks which yielded detectable traces of hydrocarbons.”

The crew discovered aviation fuel in the water system on Sept. 16, USNI News previously reported.

The other ships with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group are at sea for the Composite Unit Training Exercise (COMPTUEX) ahead of an upcoming deployment, the two officials confirmed to USNI News. It’s unclear how long the issue will keep Nimitz at the pier or if it will affect its upcoming deployment.

The Navy claimed last week that it had resolved the issue and the water was safe to use after sailors did not have clean water aboard the carrier for three days. At the time, a service official told USNI News the contamination occurred because of a procedural “line up” issue rather than material damage to the ship.

In a statement last week, Naval Air Forces said the water was safe for sailors.

“The crew immediately took action to secure access to the ship’s potable water and provide bottled water to the crew. After conducting a thorough flush and inspection of its potable water system, fresh water has been restored to the ship. The water onboard the ship is safe for use and the health and wellbeing of all of our sailors is a top priority,” Cmdr. Zach Harrell, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces, told USNI News on Sept. 21.

While the Navy has not detailed the issue that led to the initial contamination of the potable water system, Nimitz uses a ballast tank system that can mix fresh water with jet propellant-5. The fresh water in the ballast tanks — which naturally separates from the fuel — can be used for potable water. However, if the procedure isn’t followed correctly, the drinking water can become contaminated.

Defense Secretary Austin to Meet with Red Hill Team in Hawaii

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Hawaii to meet with Indo-Pacific partners and get an update on the effort to defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, a Pentagon spokesman announced Tuesday. While in Hawaii, Austin will visit with Rear Adm. John Wade, who the defense secretary tapped this month to serve […]

A firefighter, attached to Federal Fire Department Hawaii, conducts environmental testing during a spill response exercise at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on Sept. 22, 2022. US Navy Photo

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Hawaii to meet with Indo-Pacific partners and get an update on the effort to defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, a Pentagon spokesman announced Tuesday.

While in Hawaii, Austin will visit with Rear Adm. John Wade, who the defense secretary tapped this month to serve as the commander of the Joint Task Force – Red Hill, and tour the fuel depot. Austin expects to get updates on the defueling process, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said during a Tuesday briefing. This is the secretary’s first visit to Red Hill since the leak.

“And so this will be the opportunity for [Austin] to provide his secretary’s intent, so to speak, firsthand and get a chance to talk with the task force leadership team,” Ryder said.

Austin leaves Wednesday for his trip, first stopping in California to visit Naval Base Point Loma and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, where he will meet with sailors and Marines, according to a Monday Defense Department news release.

Red Hill’s defueling, which comes as a result of a November 2021 leak that contaminated water, is one of Austin’s top priorities for the DoD, Ryder said.

Rear Adm. John Wade in 2018. US Navy Photo

Wade, who previously served as the director of operations for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, is responsible for working with the community, Environmental Protection Agency and the Hawaii Department of Health as he oversees the Red Hill task force, USNI News previously reported.

Austin’s meeting with Wade will be the first one between the two officials since the admiral assumed command of the task force. Outside of the meeting, Wade will typically report to Indo-Pacific Command commander Adm. John Aquilino.

The Navy is currently in the process of defueling the Red Hill fuel facility, which is expected to take until July 2024. In a defueling plan update submitted earlier this month, the Navy decreased the timeline by six months from the original proposal.

The Department of Hawaii previously rejected the original plan due to a lack of specificity. The Navy must submit a closure plan for Red Hill by Nov. 1 to the Hawaii Health Department.

The Navy is expected to start defueling Red Hill pipes with fuel currently in them in October. There are about 220,000 gallons of fuel in one, 170,000 gallons in a second and 690,000 gallons in a third line, equal to about 1.08 million gallons of fuel in total.

Last week the Navy, with onlookers from the Hawaii Health Department and the EPA, conducted an exercise for handling any potential fuel spills while defueling the pipes.

“Demonstrating that our personnel have the ability to quickly and appropriately respond to a release or spill at Red Hill is crucial in our continued effort to safely and expeditiously defuel the facility,” Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett, the commander of Navy Region Hawaii, said in a Navy news release. “We remain committed to working closely with our partners in the Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency to protect our community and our aquifer.”

Crowley Awarded Military Sealift Command Maritime Prepositioning Force Contract

Jacksonville, Florida-based Crowley has been awarded a contract for the operation and maintenance of six U.S. government-owned Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) vessels for the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command.  The…

Jacksonville, Florida-based Crowley has been awarded a contract for the operation and maintenance of six U.S. government-owned Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) vessels for the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command.  The...

Reagan Strike Group Starts Drills with Korean Navy; Russian, Chinese Ships Spotted off Alaska

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG) began drills with the Republic of Korea Navy in the East Sea on Monday, the U.S. Navy announced. The Maritime Counter-Special Operations Exercise (MCSOFEX) in the East Sea with the ROKN, through Thursday, the service said. U.S. Navy units participating in the exercise are carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) with […]

A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook lands on the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), in the waters east of the Korean peninsula on Sept. 26, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG) began drills with the Republic of Korea Navy in the East Sea on Monday, the U.S. Navy announced.

The Maritime Counter-Special Operations Exercise (MCSOFEX) in the East Sea with the ROKN, through Thursday, the service said. U.S. Navy units participating in the exercise are carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) Five, cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62), destroyers USS Barry (DDG-52) and USS Benfold (DDG-65) and staff from Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and Carrier Strike Group (CSG) Five, according to the release. The Army’s 2nd Combat Air Brigade and U.S. Air Force’s 7th Air Force joined with units from U.S. Special Operations Command Korea for the exercises.

“Our combined ROK-U.S. naval force is demonstrating its strength and resolve by conducting this exercise together to build our combat readiness,” said Rear Adm. Michael Donnelly, commander, Task Force (CTF) 70/CSG 5, in the release.

The bilateral exercise includes live fire, surface warfare, anti-submarine and anti-air drills.

“This exercise will improve ROK-U.S. combined operational capabilities and bolstered interoperability,” said Rear Adm. Kwak, Kwang Sub, commander, ROK Navy Maritime Battle Group (MBG) 1, in the release. “Two navies will continue to maintaining combined naval defense posture based on iron-clad ROK-U.S. alliance.”

Russia, Chinese Warships Spotted near Alaska

A Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crewmember observing a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea, September 19, 2022. Coast Guard Photo

On Monday, the U.S Coast Guard issued a release stating that the joint Russian Navy – People’s Liberation Army Navy Surface Action group was sighted sailing approximately 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island, Alaska, on Sept. 19.

According to the release, USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756) was on a routine patrol that day when it encountered a PLAN cruiser with the pennant number 101, which corresponds to CNS Nanchang (101) though China considers the ship as a destroyer.

Kimball later identified two more Chinese naval vessels and four Russian naval vessels, including a Russian Navy destroyer, all in a single formation with Nanchang as a combined surface action group operating in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), according to the release.

As a result of the sighting, Kimball is now operating under Operation Frontier Sentinel, a Seventeenth Coast Guard District operation designed to meet presence with presence when strategic competitors operate in and around U.S. waters.

“The U.S. Coast Guard’s presence strengthens the international rules-based order and promotes the conduct of operations in a manner that follows international norms. While the surface action group was temporary in nature, and Kimball observed it disperse, the Kimball will continue to monitor activities in the U.S. EEZ to ensure the safety of U.S. vessels and international commerce in the area,” according to the release, which also added that a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak C-130 Hercules air crew provided support to the Kimball’s Operation Frontier Sentinel activities.

Coast Guard cutters deployed to the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean also encountered Chinese naval vessels, including a surface action group transiting approximately 50 miles off the Aleutian Island chain, in September 2021.

“While the formation has operated in accordance with international rules and norms,” said Rear Adm. Nathan Moore, Seventeenth Coast Guard District commander in the release, “we will meet presence-with-presence to ensure there are no disruptions to U.S. interests in the maritime environment around Alaska.”

The Russian Navy – PLAN surface action group consists of Russian Navy destroyer RFS Marshal Shaposhnikov (543), corvettes RFS Sovershennyy (333), RFS Gromkiy (335) and RFS Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov (339), and replenishment ship Pechanga, while the PLAN contingent consist of Nanchang, frigate CNS Yancheng (546) and replenishment ship CNS Dongpinghu (902).

The two navies have been working together to carry out a joint naval patrol in the Pacific Ocean, the Russian Defense Ministry announced Sept. 15.

On Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that the group had held a number of drills, including search and rescue rehearsals and air defense exercises, as part of joint patrols in the Pacific Ocean.

The statement also said the group had been practicing maneuvers using various formations and establishing communication links between the vessels and that several joint and individual exercises were conducted to work out anti-submarine missions, search and rescue operations at sea and execute air defense tasks, with flights performed by antisubmarine and rescue ship-based helicopters.

The Russian and Chinese warships have sailed more than 3,000 nautical miles in the past 12 days and are continuing their patrols, according to the release.

PLAN ships have also been sighted transiting through Japanese straits, according to Japan Ministry of Defense releases.

On Monday, the Joint Staff Office (JSO) of the Ministry of Defence issued two releases with the first release stating that at around 8 a.m. Friday, a PLAN destroyer, frigate and replenishment ship were sighted sailing southeast in an area 180km north of Miyako Island before they sailed southeast through the Miyako Strait ,which lies between Miyako Island and Okinawa. The PLAN ships were identified as destroyer CNS Huainan (123), frigate CNS Rizhao (598) and replenishment ship CNS Kekexilihu (968).

The three ships form the PLAN 42nd China Naval Escort Task Force, which left their homeport on Sept. 21 for the Gulf of Aden to conduct anti-piracy escort missions there. The task force is now in the South China Sea, according to a release from China’s Ministry of National Defense.

The JSO release stated that the PLAN ships were monitored by Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JS Inazuma (DD-105) and minesweeper JS Shishijima (MSC-691), a JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of Fleet Air Wing 1 based at JMSDF Kanoya Air Field, Kyushu, and a P-3C Orion of Fleet Air Wing 5 based at Naha Air Base, Okinawa.

The second JSO release stated that at noon Friday, a PLAN Dongdiao class surveillance vessel, hull number 796, was sighted sailing east in an area 100 km southwest of Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, and subsequently sailed northeast through the Tsushima Strait in the Sea of Japan.

Minesweepers JS Toyoshima (MSC-685) and JS Ukushima (MSC-686) and fast attack craft JS Umitaka (PG-828) shadowed the PLAN ship.

The JSO issued another release Tuesday after a PLAN Dongdiao class surveillance vessel with the hull number 794 was sighted around 4 p.m. Monday sailing northwest in an area 140km east of Miyako Island. The ship then sailed northwest through the Miyako Strait and into the East China Sea.

Dongdiao 794 previously sailed southeast through the Miyako Strait on Aug. 28, and Toyoshima and a JMSDF P-3C Orion of Fleet Air Wing 5 shadowed the PLAN ship.

Over in Yokosuka, destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) and LCS USS Oakland (LCS-24) arrived at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) on Monday for scheduled port visits.

Lockheed Martin Delivers 12th Freedom-Class LCS Cooperstown

The Navy took delivery of the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship Cooperstown (LCS-23) at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Marinette, Wis., Naval Sea Systems Command announced late last week. Coopertown is the 12th Freedom-class variant that Lockheed Martin turned over to the Navy and the second delivered with a fix to the complex gearing mechanism […]

Cooperstown (LCS-23) during sea trials. Lockheed Martin Photo

The Navy took delivery of the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship Cooperstown (LCS-23) at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Marinette, Wis., Naval Sea Systems Command announced late last week.

Coopertown is the 12th Freedom-class variant that Lockheed Martin turned over to the Navy and the second delivered with a fix to the complex gearing mechanism that links the ship’s gas turbines to its diesel engines.

USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) was the first ship to recieve the fix for the issue in the RENK AG-built combining gear. The fault came to light after combining gear causalities on USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9).

The Navy and Lockheed Martin are also working on fixes for USS St. Louis (LCS-19) and the future USS Marinette (LCS-25), NAVSEA told USNI News last month.

Lockheed Martin and the Navy are currently working on fixes for other Littoral Combat Ships with the combining gear issue. That includes USS Sioux City (LCS-11), which is currently forward-deployed and slated for decommissioning in Fiscal Year 2023.

In addition to Sioux City, the Navy is aiming to decommission several of the LCSs despite their limited time in service.

Cooperstown (LCS-23) ship’s crest.

USS Freedom (LCS-1) commissioned in 2008 and decommissioned in 2021, USNI News previously reported. The Navy is also looking to decommission USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), USS Milwaukee (LCS-5), USS Detroit (LCS-7), USS Little Rock (LCS-9), Sioux City, USS Wichita (LCS-13), USS Billings (LCS-15) and USS St. Louis (LCS-19) in FY 2023. But the House Armed Services Committee has a provision in its version of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to prevent four of the ships from being decommissioned, while the Senate Armed Services Committee’s bill would save five.

Despite the push to decommission the Littoral Combat Ships, the Navy is still expected to accept four more ships. Lockheed Martin is slated to deliver future USS Marinette (LCS-25) in early 2023, while the company continues work on USS Nantucket (LCS-27), USS Beloit (LCS-29) and USS Cleveland (LCS-31), the last ship in the Freedom class.

The next step for Cooperstown is its commissioning ceremony in New York City followed by a move to its new homeport in Mayport, Fla.

Cooperstown is the first ship named for the New York village. It’s home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The ship’s motto – America’s Away Team – plays on its namesake, according to a Navy news release.

Defense Begins for Accused Bonhomme Richard Arsonist

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The government’s prosecution against a young sailor accused of arson, which ultimately destroyed an amphibious warship in 2020, centers on one shipmate’s claim he saw that sailor where the fire started shortly before it was reported. That’s the picture Navy prosecutors painted last week during Seaman Recruit Ryan Sawyer […]

An MH-60S Knight Hawk helicopter from the ‘Merlins’ of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 and fire boats assist in US Bonhomme RIchard firefighting efforts on July 13, 2020. US Navy Photo

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The government’s prosecution against a young sailor accused of arson, which ultimately destroyed an amphibious warship in 2020, centers on one shipmate’s claim he saw that sailor where the fire started shortly before it was reported.

That’s the picture Navy prosecutors painted last week during Seaman Recruit Ryan Sawyer Mays’ general court-martial on charges of aggravated arson and hazarding a vessel. A conviction on the latter charge carries a punishment of up to life imprisonment.

Trial judge Navy Capt. Derek Butler heard testimony from nearly two dozen sailors, investigators and experts over the past week. On Monday, defense attorneys got their shot to convince the judge that Mays is not guilty and that the Navy’s case rests on a questionable investigation that lacks convincing evidence of arson and ignores other potential causes of the fire. The case is expected to wrap up by the week’s end.

The fire began aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) at about 8 a.m. on July 12, 2020, and burned for five days. The blaze is among the Navy’s costliest, destroying the amphibious assault ship just as the ship neared the end of a $249 million modernization to accommodate the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters multi-mission jet. Contractors with NASSCO, a shipbuilding company contracted to do the maintenance availability, hadn’t yet signed the ship back to the Navy, but sailors living in a berthing barge had begun to move back aboard.

Navy officials ultimately decided not to repair the ship – an estimated $3 billion loss – and sold it for scrap.

A sweeping command investigation into the fire pointed to suspected arson as a cause, based on the criminal investigation conducted by Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The investigation also highlighted widespread failures, inaction and inadequate training by the ship’s leadership and crew, revealed significant gaps in command relationships and found serious gaps and shortfalls in capabilities for fire suppression and fire attack.

Blaze Began in Lower Stowage Deck

Diagram of the fire aboard Bonhomme RIchard. US Navy Photo

Four days into the fire, ATF fire investigators with a national response team began to examine the ship’s damaged, sooted hull once the onboard fires abated. They zeroed in on an area in the ship’s lower vehicle stowage deck where they believed the fire began around 8 a.m. and shortly after duty section turnover. NCIS and ATF agents questioned dozens of the ship’s crew and collected scores of questionnaires ATF had provided them, and they sifted through debris recovered from the Lower V. Agents then cast eyes on a handful of sailors, including Mays, who they suspected of intentionally setting the fire.

Prosecutors last week arranged testimony that placed Mays in the vicinity of the Lower V, which on the weekend of the fire was packed with a mix of cardboard boxes, buckets, hoses, coils, scaffolding, forklifts and other equipment and trash. One sailor described it as “a junkyard.”

ATF Special Agent Matthew Beals, a certified fire investigator, led the agency’s report into the “origin and cause” of the fire. A 21-year veteran of the ATF, Beals said he’s investigated 225 fires over his career, and upon hearing of a Navy ship aflame at the naval base, the San Diego-based agent testified that he offered NCIS the bureau’s services.

NCIS “deferred the origin-and-cause portion (of the investigation) to ATF,” Beals said when testifying Sept. 20.

In his investigation and inspection of the ship’s Lower V deck, the agent said he believes the fire began when someone put a flame to a petroleum distillate liquid applied on thick, cardboard boxes known as “triwalls.” That fire, he concluded, spread to other items in the space.

Capt. Jason Jones, a Navy prosecutor, asked if any liquid accelerant was found at the site. None was found, Beals said, adding that it could have evaporated or been consumed in the fire. He believes a flame, potentially from a lighter or a match, was used to set the fire intentionally. He based the analysis in part on a series of field tests done in January 2021, six months after the fire. Beals also acknowledged that the contents of a metal pail he found in the Lower V were not collected and analyzed.

“I didn’t feel it warranted sending it to the lab,” he said, adding that its contents were “already contaminated.”

The investigation had noted a sailor who reported seeing someone – alleged to be Mays – walking in the Lower V with a bucket in their hand within a half-hour of the fire being reported.

He ruled out any accidental ignition, such as from an electrical malfunction from forklifts or lithium-ion batteries that were in the space or a discarded cigarette, all of which Mays’ attorneys have raised as potential causes of the fire.

A Second Look at Batteries

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Graphic of the suspected Arson site in the Lower “V”

ATF’s origin-and-cause investigation, finalized in January 2021, however, did not include detailed inspections or scans of the Li-ion batteries. Defense attorneys during Mays’ Article 32 preliminary investigation hearing in December 2021 raised the batteries as a possible source of arcing, creating a spark that led to the fire. Subsequent inspection of eight batteries that Beals believed to be those ATF photographed in the Lower V after the fire were collected in December 2021 – 17 months after the fire – and taken by Beals to the National Fire Lab in Maryland. The agent testified that after CT scans of the batteries, the ATF “eliminated” them as the cause of the fire.

Beals also dismissed two forklifts near where the fire began as culprits in the fire. He testified that ATF’s experts disagreed with Mays’ experts that arcing had occurred in the engine space of one of the forklifts. Federal investigators did no further inspection of the forklifts.
“They were left in place in the Lower V,” Beals testified.

Defense attorneys raised the possibility that a malfunction in one of the forklifts led to arcing that started the fire. But ATF electrical engineer Michael Abraham, testifying for nearly three hours on Sept. 21, said what the defense’s expert claimed was arcing in the forklift was just a “globule” of melted copper. Copper melts at 1,985 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We considered all potential sources of ignition,” said Abraham, who was part of the National Response Team assigned to the Bonhomme Richard fire investigation.

He said he visually inspected both forklifts and determined the globule would not have caused the fire, nor would the Li-ion batteries that he examined at ATF’s lab, he added.

But in cross-examination by Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torres, one of Mays’ attorneys, Abraham acknowledged that he hadn’t included the Li-ion batteries in five pages of notes he took from his post-fire inspection aboard Bonhomme Richard, although he recorded seeing 9-volt and other batteries among the debris. He disagreed with the attorneys’ contention that internal damage or ruptures inside batteries could have started a fire.

Mays’ defense attorneys this week are expected to call their own experts in electrical engineering to testify and chip away at the government’s arguments and raise reasonable doubt of the allegations against Mays.

A Sailor’s Accusation

US Fire Pump forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imagery of BONHOMME RICHARD. US Navy Photo

Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Kenji Velasco, one of several sailors who testified on Sept. 22, told the court that it was Mays who he saw in the Lower V deck, wearing a mask and carrying a pail, before the fire was reported.

Velasco’s identification has been questionable. Velasco was more confident in identifying who he spotted that morning than in eight previous times he spoke with NCIS and ATF investigators, defense attorneys noted. In his initial interviews with agents, Velasco hadn’t identified the person he saw by name, but he eventually suspected Mays after discussing it with several other deck department sailors.

Operations Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Cordero testified that he and several others spoke with Velasco in the days after the fire about what they did and saw that morning. During those conversations, they started to think that Mays might have been the one who Velasco told them he saw go down to Lower V. They discussed what that person was wearing, and the “boot camp coveralls” that Velasco described he saw was something that they’d seen Mays wear previously.

“You all started thinking, Seaman Mays?” Lt. Tayler Haggerty, a defense attorney, asked Cordero. “Yes,” he replied.

Mays’ attorneys contend that he was wearing coveralls that morning, not the Type III working uniform. Petty Officer 2nd Class Ray Smith testified that he would have seen Mays during the 7:45 a.m. muster on the flight deck and he said he would have chewed him out if he wasn’t wearing coveralls since “I don’t like people mustering in Type IIIs.” Smith recalled first seeing smoke about 15 minutes after muster.

Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Beau Benson, recalled to the stand on Sept. 23 by prosecutors for a second time, testified that Velasco “was fixated on one person” and had asked him what time he, as a deckplate supervisor, had given Mays an assignment following muster.
“He was just fixated on him in particular,” he said.

BHR Sailors’ Recollections

Sailors and Federal San Diego Firefighters equip gear before providing firefighting assistance on board USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on the morning of July 13, 2020. US Navy Photo

Eight sailors, all Bonhomme Richard crew members at the time of the fire, took the stand on Sept. 19 to recall what and who they saw the morning the fire began. Nearly 140 of the 1,000-person crew were on duty, according to the Navy’s investigation, and 10 minutes elapsed after smoke was first spotted before the fire was reported

Benson testified that he was standing near the top of the ramp to the Lower V when he saw white smoke, and he reported it to the officer of the day.

Senior Chief Brian Six heard the 1MC call and hustled to the hangar bay, where he saw “bellowing black smoke.” The veteran sailor said “it wasn’t like electrical smoke” but was “almost like petroleum.” He heard “a lot of popping and crackling, and you could hear the roar of the fire.”

Carrying a firefighting thermal imager as he tried to go down the ramp to the Lower V around 8:30 a.m., Six recalled high heat emanating from the bulkheads and visibility just “two or three inches in front of my face.”

Photos taken by Chief Jason February in the initial firefighting efforts show increasingly thick, dark smoke pouring into the ship’s vast hangar bay – coming up the ramp from the Upper Vehicle deck that’s above the Lower V – in the first half-hour after the fire was reported. Teams of firefighting sailors gathered in the hangar bay and later were joined by federal and local firefighting crews before two explosions two hours later forced evacuation from the ship.

“There was no visibility whatsoever down there,” Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nelson Ernesto PablosGarcia testified.

He was pulling roving duty when he heard alarms go off sometime before 8:10 a.m. and was told to check it out. He told February “to sound battle stations” and he ran to get equipped with a SCBA mask before trying to get down to the Lower V. Heat from the fire, though, kept preventing him from reaching the landing.

Damage Controlman 1st Class Jeffrey Garvin was on duty as a fire marshal when he heard a report via the ship’s 1MC speakers of “black smoke” in the Lower V. Garvin testified he ran up to the hangar bay “and I see smoke bellowing out … black, thick, very dark.”

Garvin said he was pushed back by smoke in an attempt to go down the ramp.

“It was intense smoke. Super hot. It was something I’d never felt before,” he testified.

He saw an “orange glow” and described an “excessive heat and inability to breathe.”

In cross-examination by defense attorney Torres, Garvin said that he tried to get down to the Lower V on his own initiative to try to make sure no one was down there. He was visibly upset , recalling how he couldn’t do it.

“You’re supposed to make sure everybody is safe,” he said.

Sarcasm or Confession?

The location of the lower vehicle deck aboard Bonhomme Richard (LHA-6). USNI News Graphic

The judge also heard testimony on Sept. 23 from two sailors who had escorted Mays between the NCIS office at the San Diego base and the military brig located at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego. Mays was driven to Miramar, where he would be held in detention for several months, after some 10 hours of interrogation by NCIS and ATF investigators.

Prosecutors argued that statements the detained Mays made while he was in an office at the San Diego base awaiting a medical exam amounted to a confession.

Senior Chief Master-at-Arms Jeremy Kelley testified that he heard Mays say “‘I’m guilty I did it,’ or words to that effect.

In questioning by Torres, Kelley said “you could hear his frustration. He sounded frustrated.” He conceded that he had told NCIS that it was possible that Mays was being sarcastic.

When Cmdr. Leah O’Brien, a prosecutor, asked Kelley if Mays’ tone had changed from the casual conversation during the drive from the naval base, he said “it was very different” and added, “I took it seriously.”

Master-at-Arms 1st Class Carissa Tubman testified that Mays became less chatty and less “playful” as he sat six feet away, waiting to be taken to the doctor.

Mays

“At that point, he was a little nervous. He kind of sat there quiet,” Tubman said. “He was mumbling under his breath… I heard, I’m guilty I guess I did it. It had to be done.”

Mays had enlisted in May 2019 and completed the Pre-Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL program at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Ill., on Sept. 30, 2019. He reported to the Naval Special Warfare Training Center in Coronado, Calif., as a BUD/S student and, during his second attempt at the course, had voluntarily dropped just days into the first week of the first phase. He left Coronado on March 3, 2020, and reported to Bonhomme Richard two weeks later. He’s been assigned to Amphibious Squadron 5 in San Diego since April 2021.

Mays’ sour attitude came from frustration after dropping from BUD/S and assignment to Bonhomme Richard as an undesignated seaman, according to testimony and the investigation. Mays often talked about returning to the training course and openly complained about the deck department and shipboard duty and cursed out the “fleet Navy,” sailors recounted.

Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate Michael Simms, testifying on Sept. 21, described Mays as cocky, disrespectful and unhappy with doing grunt work, like painting and cleaning, as a member of the ship’s deck department, but in cross-examination acknowledged that “it’s not the most glamorous job in the Navy.”

PEO Carriers: USS Gerald R. Ford ‘Fully Delivered’ Ready to Deploy

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Five years after its commissioning, the world’s largest warship is in shape to deploy, the officer who oversees the Navy’s carrier program said last week. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) quietly reached its initial operating capability in December and has been in workups since completing a six-month repair availability in March […]

Distinguished visitors observe flight operations aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), Sept. 17, 2022. US Navy Photo

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Five years after its commissioning, the world’s largest warship is in shape to deploy, the officer who oversees the Navy’s carrier program said last week.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) quietly reached its initial operating capability in December and has been in workups since completing a six-month repair availability in March following explosive shock trials off the coast of Florida.

“She’s fully delivered now, she’s met her initial operating capability,” Rear Adm. James Downey told USNI News last week during the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual Fleet Maintenance and Modernization Symposium.
“She’s fully through the operational threshold.”

Since leaving the repair period, Ford and its crew have been operating at a steady pace off of the East Coast with elements of Carrier Air Wing 8. The crew aboard completed system qualification tests, flight deck certification, three phases of air warfare training, and a Combat Systems Operational Readiness Evaluation that included 11,000 aircraft launches and arrested landings, according to the service.

“Over the last couple of years, she’s spent 250 to 300 days at sea,” Downey said.
“That’s coming up on about two deployments [of steaming days].”

USS Gerald R. Ford while in homeport in Norfolk, Virginia, on April 7, 2022. USNI News Photo

The delay for the $13 billion Ford to pull its share of the operational load was in large part due to the integration of a bevy of new technologies that Pentagon leaders required the Navy to include in the new class.

Those included the Electromagnetic Launching System, known as EMALS, for the aircraft, the Advanced Arresting Gear and the Dual Band air search radar. That included the installation of 11 advanced weapons elevators which took several years. The final one was delivered in December.

Following the completion of the training and certifications, Ford departed Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Sept. 16 ahead of an Atlantic training cruise later this year.

“She has every certification that every other carrier has – from flying to live weapons,” Downey told USNI News.

As of Monday, Ford was operating in the Virginia Capes Operating Areas, according to the USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker.

The upcoming underway won’t be the same as a full carrier strike group deployment, but will be an extended training cruise meant to give the operational commander a chance to get a better sense of how Ford operates, two congressional sources briefed on the Navy’s plan told USNI News in the last several weeks.

The Navy has billed the underway as a “service retained deployment,” which doesn’t require the same certifications for a fully deployed CSG, the Hill sources confirmed to USNI News. The training cruise will partner the strike group with allied ships and will inform a traditional deployment in 2023, USNI News has learned.

When Ford finally enters the deployment cycle, it will ease the burden of the existing East Coast carrier fleet, which has seen a string of extended deployments over the last several years. The carrier was originally scheduled to deploying 2018.

US To Speed Up Nuclear Submarine Deal With Australia

By Sybilla Gross (Bloomberg) The US is discussing accelerating the production of nuclear submarines to bolster Australia’s defense capabilities in an effort to counter China’s growing military influence in the Asia…

By Sybilla Gross (Bloomberg) The US is discussing accelerating the production of nuclear submarines to bolster Australia’s defense capabilities in an effort to counter China’s growing military influence in the Asia...

Anzio, Hué City Leave the Fleet as Navy Cruiser Decommissionings Continue

After more than 30 years in the Navy, USS Anzio (CG-68) and USS Hué City (CG-66) decommissioned this week. Anzio, which was commissioned May 2, 1992, ceremonially left the fleet on Thursday during a ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., in a ceremony attended by the current crew and plankowners of the ship. Hué City‘s decommissioning […]

Sailors and plankowners of the Ticonderoga-class, guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio (CG-68) haul down the pennants, the jack, and the ensign during the ship’s decommissioning ceremony onboard Naval Station Norfolk, Sept. 22, 2022. US Navy Photo

After more than 30 years in the Navy, USS Anzio (CG-68) and USS Hué City (CG-66) decommissioned this week.

Anzio, which was commissioned May 2, 1992, ceremonially left the fleet on Thursday during a ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., in a ceremony attended by the current crew and plankowners of the ship. Hué City‘s decommissioning ceremony, also held in Norfolk, was Friday.

Hué City, commissioned Sept. 14, 1991, and served 31 years in the Navy. The ship was built by Ingalls Shipbuilding and is named after a Vietnam War battle, the only warship to bear a name from the conflict.

Hué City, deployed multiple times over its 31 years of service, including providing humanitarian support in New York following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Between 2002 to 2017, the ship deployed seven times in order to support Operation Enduring Freedom and other efforts in the Middle East.

“Her crew sailed with the full knowledge of the heritage that sailed with them and in striving to remain true to it, built a legacy of success of their own,” commanding officer Cmdr. Thad Tasso said in a Navy statement. “As she now takes her rightful place in our Navy’s history, I can think of no more fitting epitaph for her service than ‘she was worthy of the name she bears’.”

Anzio was built by Ingalls Shipbuilding, with her keel laying in August 1989. The ship is the second ship to bear the name Anzio, named after the invasion of Anzio and Nettuno, in Italy, during the second world war.

Over 30 years of service, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser deployed multiple times, including on a maiden deployment in October 1994. The ship supported Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the service.

USS Hué (CG-66) at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Sept. 22, 2022. US Navy Photo

One of the Anzio plankowners at the decommissioning ceremony was retired Capt. H. Wyman Howard, the first commanding officer of the ship. When the ship was first commissioned, 400 sailors came aboard, most in the early 20s with little sea experience, he said.

“Whether you fought at the Anzio beachhead, welded a piece of her steel, supervised her construction, or gave your love and support to us during 20 months of hard work, you are a valued member of Team Anzio,” Howard said, according to a Navy statement. “Thank you for all the hours, hard work, and sacrifices you made to make this day a reality.”

Cmdr. Greg Piorun, commanding officer of Anzio, said that the ceremony marked a strong bond between the sailors who served aboard it.

“From the countless hundreds of thousands of miles traveled to the comradery cemented in foreign port calls, the one thing that holds true is the connections Anzio Sailors made with each other and the bonds that formed during their service together,” Piorun said.

Anzio and Hué City were both part of the Navy’s cruiser-phased modernization program. Anzio entered in 2017 while Hué City entered in 2018. The plan was to keep the ships at the pier in a caretaker state and then modernize them as the older in-service cruisers began to leave the fleet.

The Navy abandoned the plan as the estimated costs continued to grow and instead moved to decommission the ships as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget submission.

“If we were to retain those ships for two years – all seven ships – that’s roughly $2.78 billion. The cost to modernize Hue City and Anzio alone is $1.5 billion approximately,” Vice Adm. Jim Kilby told Congress in 2021.

The Navy planned to decommission five cruisers in FY 2022.

USS Vella Gulf (CG-72) decommissioned on Aug. 4. USS Monterey (CG-61) decommissioned on Sept. 19. USS Port Royal (CG-73) is set to have its decommissioning ceremony on Sept. 29.