Hundreds of sailors continue to battle the flames aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship docked at Naval Base San Diego, keeping the fire from reaching a million gallons of oil.
The US Pacific Fleet’s media operations center confirms a total of 59 personnel, 36 sailors and 23 civilians were treated for minor injuries, which includes heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.
The U.S. Coast Guard hired an oil clean-up crew and set up a containment boom in case an oil spill occurs.
They also halted boat traffic within one nautical mile of the ship and flights over the vessel, while health officials strongly urged people to stay indoors as acrid smoke from the blaze wafted across San Diego.
A professor of international maritime law at Fordham University in New York and retired Navy Captain Lawrence B. Brennan said that there is a possibility for the hull to rupture.
Should that happens, it would cause the ship to spill its oil and leave the Navy looking at a major environmental mess.
“If this is a million gallons of oil that ends up settling on the bottom of the San Diego harbor and can’t be removed safely, we’re talking about billions of dollars of environmental damage,” Brennan said.
At a press conference, Rear Admiral Philip Sobeck, commander of the Expeditionary Strike Group Three, assures the public that the priority now is to extinguish the fire, but did not provide an estimate as to how long it would take.
“We’ve been at it for over 24 hours now and we’re going to get it until it’s done,” he said.
The admiral reported that fire temperatures had reached up to 1,000 degrees, which caused the mast of the ship to collapse, as well as threatening the central control island where the captain operates the vessel.
“In the last 24 hours, 400 sailors have been on board that ship to make sure that, you know, we make every effort to save that ship,” he said.