The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a report recommending that ongoing US Navy efforts to improve safety should be enhanced, in light of fires onboard vessels that have caused more than $4bn in damage and the loss of major warships.

Detailing its recommendations in its 20 April report, the GAO said that while the US Navy has “worked to improve fire safety”, lessons learned from fires were not being shared consistently across the service. In addition, while there are fire safety training serials and drills for ships crews, there is not a US Navy-wide standard for evaluating how effective these processes are.

The most significant loss occurred in 2020 when the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard was ravaged by an out-of-control fire while the vessel was moored at San Diego Naval Base undergoing routine maintenance and repairs.

Despite the efforts of the ship’s crew and base-side firefighters, the vessel was declared stricken and decommissioned on 15 April 2020 after burning for a number of days.

“US Navy ships undergoing maintenance face a high risk of fire, in part because repairs can involve sparks or welding in confined areas with flammable material. US Navy organisations collect and analyse lessons learned from fires through a number of processes,” the GAO stated in its report.

“However, the US Navy does not have a process for consistently collecting, analysing, and sharing these lessons learned. As a result, the US Navy has lost lessons learned over time—such as steps that a ship can take to improve fire safety.”

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Organisations that GAO interviewed collected lessons learned from fires; however, they had not consistently used the approved US Navy-wide system to store and share them. Establishing a process for the consistent collection, analysis, and sharing of fire-related lessons learned would assist the US Navy to improve behavior and reduce the risk of ships repeating costly mistakes, the GAO found.

In the report, the GAO made three recommendations to the US Navy, including that it establishes a process for consistently collecting lessons learned; an organization to analyse the effects of fires; and service-wide goals, performance measures, and a process for monitoring and reporting progress for fire-safety training.

In written comments, the US Navy concurred with all three recommendations, the GAO stated.