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Officials: Spirit of Norfolk 'possibly a total loss' after catching fire Tuesday afternoon

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Spirit of Norfolk fire (June 7)
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Posted at 1:08 PM, Jun 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-10 22:05:04-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Crews have almost completely put out a fire that broke out on the Spirit of Norfolk Tuesday afternoon.

The cruise ship is currently at Naval Station Norfolk.

A fire was reported around 12:15 p.m. Tuesday on the ship outside of the port security barrier. According to the fire chief, the fire was on the naval base on the Elizabeth River. The ship is normally at Norfolk's Waterside District.

Passengers that were on the ship were offloaded. The Victory Rover rescued approximately 110 personnel/passengers and headed to Town Point Park.

Two crew members remained on the vessel while it was towed to the pier, where they were then evacuated.

A Unified Command was established on Tuesday evening in response to the fire. A News 3 viewer sent us this video of the fire still raging well into the night:

Spirit of Norfolk still on fire

Video courtesy of @RhodiePlays/Twitter

As of Thursday morning, the ship has stopped smoking. News 3's Penny Kmitt learned that crews are now pumping water off of the ship so it doesn't sink; crews are also working to make sure nothing on the ship reignites.

Officials said during a Thursday press conference that once the ship is dewatered, the contaminated water will be properly discharged at a recycling facility.

Currently, officials are trying to figure out how to tow the vessel from the Navy pier to the recycling facility for a final decision of what will happen to the vessel. Officials said their main priority is to stabilize it to get people on or off, then assess the fire's status, then safely tow it.

According to Scott Smith with the Hornblower Group, it's "more than likely" that the Spirit of Norfolk will be a total loss.

No injuries have been reported.

Naval Station Norfolk Port Operations tug boats and the Naval Station Norfolk Fire and Emergency Service, along with several nearby ships, aided with firefighting efforts.

Naval firefighters battle fire on the Spirit of Norfolk

Video courtesy of U.S. Navy Public Affairs

The Spirit of Norfolk has been moved to Pier 4 and will remain there until it can be safely transported back.

The Spirit of Norfolk's last inspection was in May, according to a spokesperson with the Coast Guard; the ship passed its inspection. It was also reportedly on dry dock for the entire month of March, where it went through multiple inspections.

News 3 has learned that two elementary school classes - a kindergarten class and a fifth grade class - were on the ship. We spoke with a class chaperone about the scary situation.

“I noticed that there was a weird distinct smell - like an electrical fire-type smell. [I] thought it was a little odd but didn’t think much of it... we’re out on the water; there’s Navy ships around, and then [we] started seeing a little bit of smoke. [It] got thicker and thicker, and then it was dark black smoke billowing out, then I look over the same of the deck and there’s just flames pouring out of the side of the boat," said Jason Sleeth, who was on the ship with his fifth grade class from Newport News.

A representative with the U.S. Coast Guard says right now, they're working on keeping any pollution contained, as there were 5,300 gallons of diesel on board.

The Norfolk fire battalion chief told News 3 firefighters put foam on the fire because it extinguishes flames more efficiently in situations like this. She said accessibility was the main challenge because the fire was in the interior of the ship. The Chesapeake Fire Department provided assistance with their foam trailer.

"The City of Norfolk strives to ensure the safety and security of all residents, so this incident is of great concern to us. We have engaged our emergency personnel to provide an effective response and to mitigate the impacts from this incident," Norfolk Fire-Rescue said after the incident.

Captain Steve Bradley with the Chesapeake Fire Department confirmed that the type of firefighting foam used to fight this fire — AR-AFFF Class B Foam Concentrate — did contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals, or forever chemicals. News 3's Zak Dahlheimer reported in May that PFAS chemicals have been strongly linked to cancers, especially testicular and kidney cancer, and harm to the reproductive and immune systems.

News 3 is looking into what environmental impacts the firefighting may cause.

Officials with Naval Station Norfolk also provided a statement after Tuesday's fire. When asked why the base and other entities responded to a civilian vessel, Naval Station Norfolk Commanding Officer Captain David Dees said, "To us, it is not just a civilian ship. It was a vessel in need; and it had 106 passengers that needed help. And that's exactly what we all did today as a team."

The Spirit of Norfolk said they plan to return quickly. They released the following statement on its plans to return:

“We are looking forward to getting back to operations as quickly as possible. We are actively exploring moving another of our boats to Norfolk to accommodate our summer bookings. We will finalize this within the coming days and share more info as it becomes available.”

A spokesperson with City Experiences said booked guests who were impacted by the incident are being contacted directly to either re-book their cruise for a future date or to cancel and get a full refund for cruises that were booked through Sunday, July 3.

Guests are being moved from the Spirit of Norfolk to the Freedom Elite to accommodate those affected through July 3. Future group bookings in Norfolk are momentarily on hold through Thursday, June 30.

“As the investigation remains ongoing regarding Tuesday’s marine incident with the Spirit of Norfolk, our booked guests who were impacted by the incident are being contacted directly to either rebook their experience for a future date, or cancel and receive a full refund for those bookings through Sunday, July 3. We are in the process of moving guests from the ‘Spirit of Norfolk’ to the ‘Freedom Elite’ to accommodate those affected through Sunday, July 3. Future group bookings in Norfolk are momentarily on hold through Thursday, June 30.

We are looking at getting back to operations as quickly as possible and will be moving another of our vessels to Norfolk to accommodate our summer bookings. We will share more information as it becomes available.

We extend our thanks to our Crew, the Norfolk Navy Station, the Coast Guard and our local fire departments, as well as the Victory Rover, for working so quickly to ensure that all our guests and crew made it safely ashore during Tuesday’s incident.”
City Experiences spokesperson

Photo gallery: 110 passengers evacuated after Spirit of Norfolk catches fire