Navy to Scrap Painter-Torched Sub


Unable to foot a $700 million repair bill, the U.S. Navy has decided to scrap a nuclear submarine severely damaged last year in a blaze set by a painter.

The USS Miami will be the second Navy ship lost this year.

The sub had been scheduled for repairs after the May 2012 fire set by Casey James Fury. The Navy initially estimated the damage from the fire at $450 million.

Now, however, the Navy says that repairs to the Los Angeles-class submarine (SSN 755) could cost hundreds of millions of dollars more—a tab the service says it cannot afford in these budget-cutting times.

Fury, a civilian painter and abrasive blaster, admitted to starting a fire on the nuclear sub in May 2012 while it was in dry dock at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, ME. The fire injured seven people.

In March, Fury was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $400 million in restitution.

Financial Constraints Blamed

Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, the Navy's director of the Undersea Warfare Division, announced the decision to scrap the ship in a Navy Live blog posted Wednesday (Aug. 7).

"Under the financial constraints imposed by sequestration, we simply cannot afford to undertake the repairs," he wrote. "Sequestration effects this past year (work force limitations) coupled with the increased scope of work have combined to raise the estimated cost of repairs from $450M to $700M."

Despite the decision to inactivate Miami, Breckenridge said the "demand signal for attack submarines is as strong as ever" and that combat commanders worldwide were requesting undersea forces in "nearly double the quantity that the Navy is able to provide."

Navy budget cuts
U.S. Navy / Lt. Scott Miller

The USS Miami, shown here in 2007, had 10 remaining years of service life. The Navy says that, due to budget constraints, it "simply cannot afford to undertake the repairs."

According to Breckenridge, the scope of repair work for Miami was four times greater than any previous submarine repair and 50 percent larger than an engineered overhaul, which he said is the largest and most demanding type of submarine maintenance.

"In times of prosperity with more flexible defense spending, sufficient resources would be available for our industrial base partners to rise and tackle this formidable challenge. However, sequestration pressures remove the needed foundation of stability to support an endeavor of this magnitude," Breckenridge said.

In addition to limited funds, Breckenridge said that inspections revealed that high temperatures and the corrosive atmosphere had caused "Environmentally Assisted Cracking" in steel piping and fasteners used in the air, hydraulic and cooling water systems. The Navy was not fully aware of the scope and cost of the cracking until May.

Miami had 10 years remaining of her planned service life, including five deployments.

Multiple FIres on Sub

It took 12 hours and more than 100 firefighters to combat the blaze that Fury started. He told authorities that he set the fire because he was suffereing from an anxiety attack and wanted to leave work.

At the time of the fire, Miami had been in the port since March 2012 for maintenance and upgrading.

The fire damaged the torpedo room and the forward compartment, which includes crew living, command and control spaces. The sub's reactor wasn't  operating at the time, and no torpedoes or other weapons were on board.

Fury had been taking prescription medications, including Celexa for anxiety and depression, Klonopin for anxiety, Ambien for sleep, and Zyrtec for allergies, according to the criminal complaint. He started to become anxious and wanted to leave work after texting his ex-girlfriend in an attempt to convince her to stop seeing someone else.

Casey James Fury

Casey James Fury was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $400 million in restitution after he admitted to starting the fire on the sub.

He then set alcohol wipes on a piece of wood, covered them with a piece of plywood, and used a lighter to set them on fire.

Just days after Fury was sentenced for the fire, fire crews responded to an unrelated blaze on the sub, caused by abrasive blasting.

Senators Express Disappointment

In a joint statement on Wednesday, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Angus King (I-ME), said they were disappointed in the Navy's decision to scrap the Miami.

"Inactivating the Miami will mean a loss to our nuclear submarine fleet—yet another unfortunate consequence of the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. We will continue to work together to find a responsible budget solution that replaces sequestration," the statement said.

Miami is the second warship that the Navy has lost in 2013. In January, the USS Guardian, a $277 million minesweeper, ran aground on the environmentally sensitive Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines. The Navy opted to dismantle the 224-foot, wood-and-fiberglass-hulled ship, calling the vessel a loss.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Criminal acts; Economy; Fire; Laws and litigation; Painters; Program/Project Management; Shipyards; U.S. Navy

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