Budget cuts spell end of fire-ravaged nuclear sub

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Thursday, August 8, 2013 - 1:59pm

Casey James Fury simply didn't want to be at work, and in the process cost the Navy nearly a half-billion dollars and one attack submarine.

Fury admitted to setting fire to the USS Miami, a nuclear sub, in May 2012 while it was in dry dock.

He was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison in March and ordered to pay $400 million in restitution -- roughly the cost of the damage.

The Navy won't see anything close to that amount from Fury, of course, but neither will it from Uncle Sam.

On Tuesday, the Navy announced that despite the demand for attack submarines being "as strong as ever," the Miami is being inactivated.

The reason: under sequestration, the federal government's forced budget cuts, the Navy simply can't afford to make the repairs.

"The type of damage was unlike anything we'd seen in recent memory," Rear Admiral Richard Breckenridge, director of undersea warfare, said on a Navy Live blog post. "The anticipated scope of work is four times greater than any previous submarine repair due to damage," the post continued.

Breckenridge blamed across-board budget cuts, saying, "Sequestration pressures remove the needed foundation of stability to support an endeavor of this magnitude."

Fury was working inside the Miami on May 23 as a painter and sandblaster while the Los Angeles-class attack submarine was at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine undergoing a massive overhaul.

Initial investigations by the Navy found that the fire may have been started by a vacuum cleaner.

But a federal criminal complaint said Fury admitted to setting fire to a pile of rags near a vacuum cleaner in a stateroom in the submarine.

Seven people were injured in the blaze, including three shipyard firefighters.

The sub's reactor was not operating when the fire broke out and remained unaffected and stable throughout, Capt. Bryant Fuller, commander for the shipyard, said at the time.

Fury also admitted to starting a second fire at the dry dock three weeks later, according to federal court documents.

The second fire was started in an area underneath the submarine where Fury was working.

In both cases, he told investigators that he started the fires because he was having extreme anxiety and was trying to get out of work, according to federal documents.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine, and Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, expressed their disappointment at the announcement, saying in a statement that 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 Miami was commissioned in 1990 and was one of 42 Los Angeles-class subs in the U.S. Fleet.

It carried a crew of 12 officers and 98 enlisted personnel, according to the Navy, and was capable of carrying Tomahawk cruise missiles and Mark 48 torpedoes.

No weapons were on board at the time of either fire, according to the Navy.

This is the second warship the Navy has lost this year.

The USS Guardian, a minesweeper, ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines in January, damaging an estimated 43,000 square feet of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

To prevent further damage to the reef, salvagers had to cut it into pieces to lift off.

It was struck from the fleet in February.

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