August 7, 2013

Navy abandons plan to fix nuclear sub burned in Maine

The repairs were expected to cost $450 million, after a man set fire to the sub at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 2012.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy has canceled plans to repair a fire-damaged nuclear submarine at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery because of higher-than-anticipated costs and federal budget cuts, officials said Tuesday.

click image to enlarge

Smoke rises from a Portsmouth Naval Shipyard dry dock as fire crews respond May 23, 2012 to a fire on the USS Miami nuclear submarine at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on an island in Kittery in 2012.

AP photo

click image to enlarge

This 2004 file photo shows the USS Miami nuclear submarine in Groton, Conn. The Navy has cancelled plans to repair the submarine, damaged in a May 2012 arson at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, in light of higher-than-anticipated costs and federal budget cuts, officials announced Tuesday.

AP photo

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The Navy estimated that it would cost an additional $390 million in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 to repair the USS Miami, which was severely damaged by an arsonist at the shipyard in May 2012. As a result, the submarine will be removed from service and the money will be used elsewhere.

The Navy said it has spent $8 million so far for repairs to the submarine – from a $94 million contract it awarded to a contractor in September.

It was unclear Tuesday night how the decision will affect the workload at the shipyard, which employs about 4,700 civilians. But the consensus among union leaders was that it will not cause the loss of any jobs.

Shipyard spokeswoman Danna Eddy said she could not comment on the Navy’s decision or how it would affect the work force.

Most of the repair work on the USS Miami was being done by employees of Electric Boat, a Connecticut-based subsidiary of General Dynamics.

In a joint statement Tuesday night, members of the Maine and New Hampshire congressional delegations said Navy officials indicated that the inactivation process and other planned maintenance projects will continue to provide a “consistent workload” to the Kittery shipyard.

“The decision to inactivate Miami is a difficult one, taken after hard analysis and not made lightly,” Rear Adm. Rick Breckenridge, the Navy’s director of Undersea Warfare, said in a prepared statement Tuesday evening.

“We will lose the five deployments that Miami would have provided over the remaining 10 years of her planned service life,” he said, “but in exchange for avoiding the cost of repairs, we will open up funds to support other vital maintenance efforts, improving the wholeness and readiness of the fleet.”

Breckenridge is scheduled to discuss the Navy’s decision in more detail with the media Wednesday morning.

A Los Angeles-class attack submarine, the USS Miami was in dry dock at the shipyard for an overhaul when a worker set a fire on board because he reportedly wanted to leave work early.

The blaze burned for 10 hours and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. More than 100 firefighters helped fight the fire. Five were injured.

The man who set the fire, Casey James Fury, was sentenced in March to 17 years in prison and ordered to pay $400 million in restitution.

Navy officials consistently said they hoped to put the vessel back into service. The repairs were expected to cost about $450 million and continue into the spring of 2015.

Earlier this year, members of the two states’ congressional delegations worked to secure an additional $150 million for the repairs to offset across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

But the Navy said inspections revealed that “a significant number of components” would have to be replaced in the submarine’s torpedo room and auxiliary machinery room. Ultimately, the Navy decided that it was more cost-effective to decommission the submarine than to cancel “dozens” of projects on other ships and subs, Breckenridge said.

“The Navy and the nation simply cannot afford to weaken other fleet readiness in the way that would be required to afford repairs to Miami,” he said.

Though most of the repair work was assigned to Electric Boat, members of the shipyard’s Metal Trades Council will be devastated by the Navy’s decision, said Paul O’Connor, the union’s president.

He said Metal Trades Council workers were overhauling the submarine when the fire broke out. “We wanted to work on that boat and get it back to the fleet,” O’Connor said Tuesday night. “We didn’t want this to be the final chapter in the history of the Miami.”

(Continued on page 2)

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