Multiple injuries have been reported after an explosion and blaze hit a docked US navy assault ship late last night.
Among the injured are 17 sailors and four civilians whose injuries have been described as non-life threatening. All remaining staff were evacuated from the ship.
In a statement, Rear Admiral Philip Sobeck said that the cause of the fire is not yet known, though there are initial reports that the following explosion was caused by “a backdraft of over-pressurisation as the compartment started heating up.”
Mr Sobeck also said “most” of the hospitalisations have been attributed to smoke inhalation, though he added more information will be released shortly regarding injuries.
There is a 1,800 foot perimeter established around the ship, though Mr Soback claimed the risk of further explosions was “low”.
He added that there is “no ordinance on board, which was our initial concern,” however there is roughly one million gallons of fuel on board.
The US Chief of Naval Operations called the fire a “terrible tragedy”, but added that it was “grateful” for the quick response by local fire crews.
The fire was reported at 8:30am local time aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, which was docked at the US Naval Base in San Diego, California.
The total crew capacity for the ship is said to be around 1,000 – though only 160 were aboard at the time, as the ship was going through maintenance work.
US Pacific Fleet said on Twitter: “Federal Fire San Diego is the on-scene lead for firefighting efforts on @NavBaseSD combatting the fire on @LHD6BHR.
“Seventeen Sailors and four civilians are being treated for non-life threatening injuries at a local hospital. All inport ships have been contacted and directed to provide fire parties to possibly assist with firefighting efforts.”
Meanwhile, Federal Fire San Diego Division Chief Rob Bondurant said at around midnight UK time: “Currently there are two firefighting teams fighting the fire aboard the ship.
“Federal Fire is rotating their crews aboard the ship with @USNavy firefighting crews from the waterfront to fight the fire in order to find the seat of the fire and extinguish it.
“Also, @NavyRegSW tugs are also continuously combatting the fire from the bay”.
The cause of the fire is still unknown, and officials are investigating.
However, CNN claims there are initial reports of the fire starting in the well deck – the part of the ship where landing craft may enter and exit from its underside.
An aerial video of the ship fire was posted to Twitter by the San Diego Fire Department, which shows a vast plume of grey smoke rising off of the docked assault ship.
And a photo issued by the Naval Surface Forces shows at least four tugboats parked alongside the ship using water cannons to quell the blaze.
San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell said that the ship could continue burning for days.
So far, at least two other US navy ships have been moved away from the location of the fire, with the USS Fitzgerald being relocated at about 1pm local time and the USS Russell following around half an hour later.
Support for the firefighters currently tackling the blaze has begun to pour in.
Admiral Mike Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with our BHR Sailors, their families, and our emergency responders who continue to fight the fire. Godspeed.”
And a user on Twitter wrote: “Wishing a speedy recovery to all. Nice work emergency responders. Where would we be without you? Sunk, there’s where. Good on ya.”
Mr Sobeck added that at the current stage, the intential is to get the USS Bonhomme Richard sailing again.
He said: “We’re absolutely gonna make sure she sails again.
“She was in a stage of repair anyway, so we’re going to get back at it.”