NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The charred Spirit of Norfolk is in the process of being dewatered as it continues to smolder at Naval Station Norfolk, more than 48 hours after it caught fire with more than 100 people aboard.
In an update Thursday morning, the City of Norfolk said crews are remaining on site in case the fire reignites. The fire started in the Spirit’s engine room, but the cause is still under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. The vessel is considered a loss.
The dewatering pump aboard the vessel is putting the water into tanks and that process is expected to continue overnight.
Officials say all contaminated water is being handled in accordance with clean environmental standards and there is no pollution at this time.
The Coast Guard has not been able to determine if the fire is out yet. Once the Spirit is deemed safe and stable to allow crews to board, a survey will be done to check if the fire is fully extinguished.
No injuries were reported and all of the passengers, mostly elementary school students, were rescued by the Victory Rover, a smaller vessel that gives tours of the naval base. In a press conference on Thursday, officials praised the response by the crews of both vessels, as well as the children who remained calm through the incident.
The Coast Guard defended the response to the firefighting effort, saying the main concern was keeping fire crews safe. Captain Jennifer Stockwell, Deputy Commander of Sector Virginia, emphasized that ship fires are challenging because crews have to balance putting out the flames with making sure the vessel doesn’t capsize.
“Vessel fires are exceptionally complex, so we are balancing the need to put water on the fire while keeping the vessel afloat,” said Stockwell.
“There was so much water. If you put too much water into the vessel it can cause it to capsize, so we made very deliberate decisions throughout this response to minimize at times the water we put into the vessel to ensure the vessel did not sink.”
Leading those who would take questions on what happened, Scott Smith, who is Vice-President of Marine Operations for the Hornblower Group that owns the Spirit of Norfolk Luxury Yacht.
“I can say we followed protocol that satisfied us as well as the Coast Guard, and there is an ongoing investigation with the National Transportation Safety Board and Coast Guard, and we are cooperating fully,” said Smith
“All our vessels are to code and inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard on an annual basis to ensure that we are [up to code.]”
A spokesperson for the owners of the Spirit of Norfolk said the search is on for a replacement vessel for upcoming scheduled events such as weddings.