KITTERY — Almost two years after a costly fire that rendered it unfit for service, the USS Miami was formally decommissioned Friday during a ceremony at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

A packed auditorium witnessed the traditional celebration of the service life of the Miami, which was active for about 23 years. The hourlong program featured Capt. Thomas Mader, the ship’s first commanding officer, Cmdr. Rolf Spelker, the current CO, and Rear Adm. Ken Perry, the commander of Submarine Group Two. Each reflected on their memories of the submarine and its efforts in combat and peacetime, and said they wanted to focus on celebrating the officers and enlisted crew members that served aboard the vessel.

“It’s been a unique challenge,” Perry said.

On May 23, 2012, civilian worker Casey James Fury set fire to rags on board the submarine, the initial flames culminating in a 12-hour blaze and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Fury, who was also accused of setting a second fire near the submarine on June 16 of that year, was arrested a month later.

Initially, the Navy hoped to repair the submarine, which would have remained viable for use for another 10 years. Ultimately, however, after spending approximately $71 million in damage assessment and initial repairs, the Navy decided it would be too costly to fix. Friday’s ceremony marked the formal beginning of the end for the Miami, which is being stripped and prepared for tow. Perry said decommissioning the submarine early — a rare occurrence — was a “tough, prudent, right decision.”

“The Miami continues to support the fleet, even after this tough event on the ship,” Perry said at a news conference after the ceremony. “My purpose here was to pay tribute to superb service.”

Spelker said his crew were no doubt disappointed by the outcome, but would continue to follow and carry out orders. The crew, he said, realized the decision was a financial one, as the cost of fully repairing the Miami was estimated to balloon to almost $700 million. Perry said deactivating the ship would cost about $53 million. Some major parts of the Miami have been removed and transported to other vessels, and crew members will be reassigned in the coming months.

Perry said there is a high demand for submarines, and that the early deactivation of the Miami would have an impact, but he reiterated that his focus of the day was to celebrate the ship’s proud combat history and those who served in it. Spelker praised the Miami’s continuing outstanding performance since its commissioning in 1990.

Over more than two decades, the Los Angeles-class attack submarine was deployed in North America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It received numerous awards, including a Meritorious Unit Commendation, two awards for Battle Efficiency, an Armed Forces Service medal and a well-earned reputation as a “big gun.” The Miami, featuring upgraded sonar and weapons control systems, and under-ice capability, was one of the most technologically advanced vessels at the time of its christening, and was the first submarine to launch tomahawk missiles in combat operations.

“There’s a special bond that exists between a sailor and his ship,” Spelker said. “We depend on each other. … Miami redefined the possibilities of submarine warfare.”

Mader recalled memories of his time as commander of the Precommissioning Unit, including the submarine’s christening, an enlistment ceremony atop the Statue of Liberty, and its first launch out of Groton, Conn.

“It was a thrilling moment,” Mader said, praising the hundreds of crew members and officers who maintained the Miami’s reputation as an excellent ship over the years.

“I want to express my sincere best wishes to the officers and crew of the Miami here today,” Mader said before receiving the Miami’s ensign.

Although leaving the Miami in 1990 was a disappointment, Mader said the experience of working with it “all made for a wonderful ride.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services