By DAVID SHARP, Associated Press
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ The U.S. Navy intends to repair a nuclear-powered attack submarine that was severely damaged by a fire while in dry dock and then return it to the fleet, Navy officials Friday.
While engineering assessments are ongoing, the Navy has decided to repair the USS Miami and is committed to doing so, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Courtney Hillson told The Associated Press.
“Our goal is to return the Miami to the fleet because this makes sense operationally and fiscally,” Hillson said.
There had been lingering questions over whether it would make financial sense to repair the 22-year-old submarine, which is based in Groton, Conn. Early estimates put the damage at $400 million.
A former shipyard worker from Portsmouth, N.H., is charged with setting the fire on May 23 while the sub was in dry dock at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, for a 20-month overhaul.
The fire got out of control, and the submarine’s steel hull trapped heat, causing superheated smoke and a stubborn fire that took more than 100 firefighters about 12 hours to extinguish.
The fire caused heavy damage to forward compartments including living quarters, a command and control center and the torpedo room but did not reach the back of the submarine, where the nuclear propulsion components are located.
Two crew members, three shipyard firefighters and two civilian firefighters were hurt.
The Navy previously requested the reallocation of $220 million for unfunded ship repairs for the current fiscal year, with the understanding that some of it would go to the USS Miami. Additional money would be required to complete the repairs to the Los Angeles-class submarine, officials said.
A Navy official said more information is expected next week.
The Navy will provide a briefing for congressional staff on the Miami, said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat whose eastern Connecticut district includes the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. Electric Boat, which built the Miami and is based in Groton, likely will be involved along with the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in making the necessary repairs, Courtney said.
“This is not a normal repair and maintenance job,” he said. “This is major body work.”
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said she’ll work with other lawmakers and stakeholders to ensure that shipyard workers have “the resources they require to rapidly return the USS Miami to sea.”
Last month, the Navy announced its intent to enter into an agreement with Electric Boat for advanced planning for potential repairs that would be performed at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Some observers had questioned whether the extreme heat damaged the structural integrity of the hull, which must withstand extreme pressure when the sub travels deep underwater.
The Navy said it’s confident that the sub can be made seaworthy.
“We will make repairs, which require time, and we will coordinate with engineers and technical experts,” Hillson, the Navy spokeswoman, said from the Pentagon. “However, we will do so without putting sailors at risk. The safety of our personnel will continue to be our priority.”
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service said shipyard worker Casey James Fury confessed to setting the fire.
Fury, 24, told the NCIS that he set the fire because he was feeling anxiety and wanted to go home but his medical leave had been used up.
Fury, who faces charges that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, has been ordered held without bail pending trial in U.S. District Court.
Associated Press writer Mike Melia in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.
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(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)