Norfolk excursion ship catches fire during school trip

The Spirit of Norfolk tour boat caught fire near Norfolk Naval Base (Yujiro Hanma/Twitter)

Posted on June 7, 2022 at 8:46 p.m. by

The Maritime Executive

A well-known excursion ship which offers cruises in Norfolk Harbor and along the Elizabeth River caught fire today while operating an excursion for primary school pupils. Local fire departments, aided by the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard, fought the blaze and reported that all 108 people on board were all safe as the fire continued to burn.

At midday today, June 7, the fire broke out on the 187-foot The Spirit of Norfolk while the ship was near Naval Station Norfolk. On board were 89 schoolchildren as well as teachers and chaperones. Fire and emergency crews responded to reports of boat fires and quickly called the fire to local emergency dispatchers after learning it was a larger tour vessel.

Passengers aboard the ship said they first smelled the smell of fire and then saw flames and black smoke thought to come from the engine room. The crew on board rounded up all the children and passengers and quickly put them in life jackets, then moved them outside to the upper deck. Onlookers also gathered along the shoreline and pier as the fire intensified and fireboats were positioned alongside.

As they continued to fight the fire, the decision was made to evacuate the passengers to another tour boat. They brought the smallest Rover of Victory docked and moved the passengers to the second ship before carrying them ashore. Two crew members remained on the The Spirit of Norfolk to assist the firefighters and shortly thereafter the ship was towed to Pier 4 at the Naval Base.

“It’s very deep, very complex and very difficult to put out,” Naval Station Norfolk Fire Chief Tony Sickell said, describing the blaze at an afternoon news conference. “We are doing everything we can at this time to cool the hull and bring water to the seat of the fire in the engine room where we believe it may have started.”

Fire crews were using foam but reported there was no risk of injury to people ashore and minimal risk of environmental pollution to the ship. By early evening, the fire was still burning aboard the ship.

Built in 1992, the The Spirit of Norfolk is a familiar sight along the local seafront. The ship runs excursions such as today’s school excursion and dinner cruises in Norfolk Harbour. It can accommodate up to nearly 500 passengers during its excursions and belongs to the Californian group Hornblower.

Company officials said the safety of their passengers was always their primary concern and the vessel was regularly inspected by the US Coast Guard and the crew conducted frequent safety drills.

The US Coast Guard will investigate the cause of the fire.

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