Spirit of Norfolk salvage crews completed the tow of the passenger vessel to Colonna's Shipyard in Norfolk, Va., Sunday morning where the joint Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board investigation team will continue to work towards determining the cause of the fire.

The Unified Command overseeing the response has stood down. The Coast Guard will continue to maintain oversight and monitor the vessel, which must request permission from the Captain of the Port for any future movement.

City Experiences, the operator of the vessel, will work to determine its final disposition.

Some 106 passengers, mostly schoolchildren, were evacuated when a fire broke out on the excursion vessel Spirit of Norfolk around mid-day June 7, according to officials at Navy Station Norfolk (Va.) and local news media.

Crew got the passengers into life vests and safely disembarked to the 95’ excursion vessel Victory Rover and returned to Norfolk’s Town Point Park.

The 187’ Spirit of Norfolk was towed to Pier 4 at the Navy station, where the base’s Fire and Emergency Services were soon joined by units from Norfolk, Coast Guard Sector Virginia and nearby cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Virginia Beach and Portsmouth, according to Navy and fire officials.

City emergency dispatchers got a 911 call from the Coast Guard at 12:10 p.m. reporting the fire. Passengers told television station 10 WAVY they smelled smoke before the crew and student chaperones quickly organized for evacuation.

Once secured at the Navy base the Spirit of Norfolk continued to burn through the night into Wednesday morning, June 8, and smolder from the fire, apparently centered in the engine room. Coast Guard and fire officials said firefighting work and salvage would continue cautiously, with concern the heavily damaged vessel could be unstable.

Operated by City Experiences, part of the Hornblower group, for Spirit Cruises LLC, the Spirit of Norfolk is a familiar sight around the Hampton Roads area, providing dinner cruises and group events.

“We are thankful to the rescue efforts taken by local authorities and the support of the Norfolk community,” City Experiences said in a statement posted on its Facebook page Wednesday. “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.”

A fireboat and a Moran tug were among the harbor assets responding to the Spirit of Norfolk fire. U.S. Navy photo.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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