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More than 100 people, many of whom were elementary school students, were evacuated safely from the Spirit of Norfolk dining cruise on the Elizabeth River near Naval Station Norfolk on Tuesday after a fire broke out near the stern of the vessel.
The incident prompted a response that involved commercial tugs and crews from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and local fire departments. Thankfully no injuries were reported.
The fire was reported just after noon as the Spirit of Norfolk was located near Naval Station Norfolk.
Officials said there were 106 passengers and crew on board, according to Captain David Dees, Naval Station (NAVSTA) Norfolk’s commanding officer. Among the passengers were 89 students, a spokesperson for the vessel’s operator said.
Smoke and flames could be seen from shore at the naval base.
The firefighting effort included two tugboats and firefighting crews from Naval Station Norfolk, U.S. Coast Guard and Norfolk Fire and Rescue. With the fire burning, Spirit of Norfolk was brought alongside Pier 4 at Naval Station Norfolk where firefighting efforts continued through at least late afternoon.
Reports indicate many of the passengers were evacuated to the Victory Rover cruise vessel. It wasn’t immediately clear how many passengers and crew were evacuated to the Victory Rover vice transferred to shore at the naval base.
Officials said the fire likely originated in the ship’s engine room.
Captain Jennifer Stockwell, Deputy Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Virginia, told a late afternoon press conference that the fire was still active.
Spirit of Norfolk is operated by City Experiences (City Cruises), part of Hornblower Group. The vessel has a capacity of 372. A spokesperson for City Cruises confirmed that the vessel was hosting a school group with 89 students on board.
“Today Spirit of Norfolk suffered an on board fire while servicing a school group of 89 students. Our on board crew acted swiftly and immediately notified first responders upon notice of the incident and brought all 106 passengers and crew safely ashore. On behalf of City Cruises, I would like to thank the local authorities, including the Norfolk Naval Station, the Coast Guard, and our local fire departments for working so quickly to ensure that all of our passengers and crew made it safely ashore.”
Update (Wednesday, June 8): The U.S. Coast Guard is continuing to work with partners to extinguish the fire on the Spirit of Norfolk and establish a salvage plan.
“Crews are continuing firefighting measures to extinguish the fire. Due to ongoing firefighting operations, the vessel is considered too unstable for crews to enter, however, exterior firefighting measures continue. Based on the instability of the ship, salvage contractors are developing a plan to safely enter the ship.”
A Unified Command consists of the U.S. Coast Guard, Naval Station Norfolk, City Cruises, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management/Department of Environmental Quality.
Photos and videos of the incident were shared online:
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