Video: Norfolk Excursion Vessel Catches Fire During School Trip

excursion boat fire Norfolk Virginia
Excursion boat Spirit of Norfolk caught fire near Naval Station Norfolk (Yujiro Hanma/Twitter)

Published Jun 7, 2022 8:46 PM by The Maritime Executive


A well-known excursion ship that offers cruises in Norfolk harbor and along the Elizabeth River caught fire today while operating a field trip for elementary school students. Local fire departments, assisted by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard fought the fire and reported that the 108 people aboard were all safe while the fire continues to burn.

At mid-day today, June 7, the fire broke out on the 187-foot Spirit of Norfolk while the vessel was near the Naval Station Norfolk. Aboard were 89 school children along with teachers and chaperones. Fire and emergency crews responded to reports of a boat fire and quickly called in fire to the local emergency dispatchers after learning it was a larger excursion ship.

Passengers aboard the vessel reported first smelling the fire and then seeing flames and dark smoke believed to be coming from the engine room. The crew aboard rounded up all the children and passengers and quickly got them into lifejackets and then moved them outdoors to the top deck. Onlookers also gathered along the shoreline and pier as the fire grew and fireboats were positioned alongside.



As they continued to fight the fire, the decision was made to evacuate the passengers to another excursion boat. They brought the smaller Victory Rover alongside and moved the passengers over to the second vessel before ferrying them to shore. Two crewmembers remained on the Spirit of Norfolk to assist the firefighters and shortly afterward the vessel was towed to Pier 4 at the naval base.

“It is very deep-seated, very complex, and very difficult to extinguish,” said Tony Sickell, Naval Station Norfolk Fire Chief, describing the fire during an afternoon press conference. “We are doing everything that we possibly can right now to cool the hull and to get water to the seat of the fire in the engine room where we believe it possibly started.” 

Fire teams were using foam but reported there was no danger of injury to people on shore and minimal danger of environmental pollution for the vessel. As of early evening, the fire was reported to still be burning aboard the vessel.



Built in 1992, the Spirit of Norfolk is a familiar sight along the local waterfront. The vessel operates excursions such as today’s school field trip and dinner cruises in Norfolk harbor. It accommodates up to nearly 500 passengers when operating its excursions and is owned by the California-based Hornblower Group.

Company officials said the safety of their passengers was always their top concern and that the ship was regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard and the crew conducts frequent safety drills.

The U.S. Coast Guard will be leading the investigation into the cause of the fire.