A dining cruise ship with more than 100 people on board caught fire Tuesday, while sailing on the Elizabeth River near Naval Station Norfolk (NSN).
Most of the people on board were elementary school students, local media reported. No one was injured in the incident.
The crew of the ship, Spirit of Norfolk, reportedly called for help the moment they were alerted about the fire, according to Chesapeakebay Magazine.
Commercial tugs and crews from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and local fire departments immediately responded to the situation, G Captain reported. Quick-thinking crew and emergency responders evacuated 106 passengers and crew aboard, including 89 schoolchildren, according to the boat’s operator City Cruises.
City Cruises praised the vessel’s crew for employing their training and “acting swiftly and immediately” to bring everyone safely off the ship. Once the passengers were removed, the boat was escorted back to NSN Pier 4, where firefighting efforts continued.
“Vessel fires are extremely complicated. We cannot continue just to put water on the vessel or we risk the vessel either capsizing or sinking. So we’re actively working through a salvage and firefighting plan but we have to be very deliberate to make sure that we safeguard the environment as well as the vessel,” Captain Jennifer Stockwell, deputy commander of Coast Guard Sector Virginia, said in a press conference, according to Chesapeakebay Magazine.
NSN also spoke out about the challenges of fighting the fire on board a cruise ship.
“The fire is deep-seeded, complex and very difficult to extinguish. We are doing everything we can to cool the hull and get water to the engine room where we believe it possibly started,” Naval Station Norfolk Fire Chief Sickell said, adding that both water and firefighting foam were used to contain the fire.
Several responders from the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Virginia Beach and Portsmouth were also involved in the rescue operation.
“We are exceptionally fortunate that we saved all the lives, in no small part thanks to the Navy … while we’re still combatting an active fire, we can say all lives were saved today,” Capt. Stockwell said.
It remains unclear to what extent the cruise vessel has been damaged.
Jolene Price-Thompson, City Cruises general manager, said in a statement, “The safety of our riders and crew is always our first priority as we continue to uphold our vessels with the vigorous safety and protocols in place.”
“We value our place and the tradition that the Spirit of Norfolk holds as a local landmark within the fabric of this great city,” Price-Thompson said.