Navy panel to probe nuclear submarine fire
Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.
KITTERY, Maine — The U.S. Navy has convened a special investigative panel to probe the circumstances behind the fire on board the USS Miami in May.
Adm. John Harvey has directed Rear Adm. Terry B. Kraft, commander of Naval Warfare Development Command, to convene and lead a panel that will delve into all aspects of the May 23 fire, including its causes and the response to the fire.
More than 100 firefighters helped to combat the fire, which broke out while the Miami, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, was docked at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
The fire spread through the forward areas of the vessel and continued to burn for more than 10 hours before it was extinguished.
Investigators believe the fire was started by an undisclosed "heat source" that was sucked into a shop vacuum, igniting the debris within.
All investigations currently under way regarding the fire will be collapsed under the jurisdiction of the new panel, according to information provided by a spokesman for the Navy's Fleet Forces Command this week. They include the ongoing investigations run by Naval Sea Systems Command and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The panel will also have the authority to request "any other available information necessary to obtain a complete understanding of the event," according to the Fleet Forces Command spokesman. That could include conducting supplemental interviews and collecting documentation related to the fire.
"The Navy is diligently investigating this incident from many different perspectives, from ship, to shore, to maintenance and many other points in between," read a statement provided by Fleet Forces Command this week. "This panel will consolidate these reports, identify causal factors that may run concurrently through the investigations, and provide a detailed understanding that ensures that every step possible is taken to learn from this fire and that all involved are better prepared to prevent something similar in our future."
The Navy has approximated the damage to the submarine at $400 million, plus another $40 million for so-called "secondary effects," such as disruption to other planned work across all Navy shipyards and the potential need to hire private contractors.
Seven people also suffered minor injuries while helping to push back flames inside the cramped quarters of the ship.
In addition to investigating the causes of the fire, the panel will also have oversight over the repair of the USS Miami, if it's determined the ship should be salvaged. A final decision has not been made. If the repairs are authorized, the panel will provide an independent repair planning and progress report to the fleet commander every 30 days.