An engine room fire caused 89 schoolchildren to be evacuated from the Spirit of Norfolk cruise boat on June 7, 2022. Photo: Norfolk Fire-Rescue

Coast Guard to Hold Public Hearing into What Went Wrong in Spirit of Norfolk Engine Fire

It was a scary situation, but responders were widely praised for coming together to get everyone out safely. Now, the Coast Guard wants to look closer at the fire that destroyed the Spirit of Norfolk cruise boat and the response to that fire.

The Coast Guard announced Tuesday it will convene a public hearing in Virginia Beach that will stretch 6-7 days beginning Thursday, January 26. The aim of the formal hearing is to “consider evidence related to the fire and total constructive loss of the passenger vessel Spirit of Norfolk.”

The Coast Guard says the hearing will examine all aspects of the fire including pre-accident historical events, regulatory compliance, crewmember duties and qualifications, mechanical systems, emergency response, and Coast Guard oversight of the vessel.

The popular river cruise vessel was taking schoolchildren on a two-hour lunch cruise on June 7, 2022 when the captain reported a fire in the engine room. With 89 children aboard, crew members worked to evacuate everyone from the vessel. There was a multi-agency response that included the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and several local fire departments.

Fire crews fought the fire at the nearby Norfolk Naval Station, and it took nearly four days to fully extinguish it. All passengers and crew made it off safely and no one was injured in the fire.

At the time, we reported on the usual decision by the Navy to respond to a “civilian vessel” like Spirit of Norfolk. But Naval Station Norfolk’s 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.”

Coast Guard Fifth District Commander Real Admiral Shannon Gilreath ordered a formal investigation to determine factors that led to the incident and examine the response. The goal is to identify any information that can improve maritime safety in the future. The hearing will be open to the public and be streamed live each day at:  

The formal hearing is scheduled to convene daily at 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on the following dates:

  • Thursday, Jan. 26
  • Friday, Jan. 27
  • Saturday, Jan. 28
  • Monday, Jan. 30
  • Tuesday, Jan. 31
  • Thursday, Feb. 2
  • Friday, Feb. 3 (if necessary)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also conducting an investigation into the incident and will work alongside the Coast Guard during this hearing. The NTSB will then analyze the facts independently and publish a separate report.

The Coast Guard has established an email address for the public and interested parties to provide information, ask questions, and make comments related to the ongoing investigation and scheduled hearing. Email [email protected]. To follow information about the hearing as it unfolds, monitor this page.

-Meg Walburn Viviano