Tugboats spray water on the Spirit of Norfolk passenger vessel after a fire broke out near Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia, June 7, 2022. Credit: U.S. Navy

Coast Guard to Hold Public Hearing Into ‘Spirit of Norfolk’ Fire

Mike Schuler
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January 17, 2023

The U.S. Coast Guard will hold a formal hearing to consider evidence related to the June 7, 2022 fire and total constructive loss of the passenger vessel Spirit of Norfolk.

The sightseeing vessel was underway on a two-hour lunch cruise on the Elizabeth River near Naval Station Norfolk with 108 people on board, many of whom were school children on a field trip, when a fire started in the engine room. Coast Guard, local fire departments, and numerous vessels responded to assist evacuating the passengers off the vessel and with firefighting efforts. All passengers and crew safely disembarked with no injuries reported.

During the evacuation, a 600-foot cargo ship suffered an engineering casualty that put it on a collision course with the Spirit of Norfolk, but quick-thinking from the crews of the responding vessels and tugs managed to maneuver both vessels before they could collide.

The Spirit of Norfolk was towed to nearby Norfolk Naval Station where firefighting crews worked to put out the fire. The fire was fully extinguished June 11 and towed to Colonna’s Shipyard June 12.

Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath, commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District, ordered a formal investigation to determine causal factors that led to the incident, examine the response, and identify any other information that can improve maritime safety in the future.

The hearing, which will take place starting January 26, in Virginia Beach, will examine all aspects of the fire, including pre-accident historical events, regulatory compliance, crewmember duties and qualifications, mechanical systems, emergency response, and Coast Guard oversight of the vessel, among other relevant factors.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is conducting a concurrent investigation into the incident and joins the Coast Guard in this fact-finding phase. The NTSB will analyze the facts to prepare and publish a separate report.

The Coast Guard has established an email address for the public and interested parties to provide information, ask questions, and make comments related to the ongoing investigation and scheduled hearing. This email will be checked regularly, and all correspondence will be acknowledged during the hearing and throughout the investigation. The email address is: [email protected].

The formal hearing is scheduled to convene daily at 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on the following dates:

  • Thursday, Jan. 26
  • Friday, Jan. 27
  • Saturday, Jan. 28
  • Monday, Jan. 30
  • Tuesday, Jan. 31
  • Thursday, Feb. 2
  • Friday, Feb. 3 (if necessary)

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