San Diego

Cleanup Efforts Underway on Ship Scorched at San Diego Harbor

The fire aboard the Norton Sound ship docked at the San Diego Harbor began at 9:40 a.m. on Sept. 29 and became so dangerous, fire officials decided to let it burn itself out

As the temperatures cooled Tuesday on a fishing ship that burned for days along downtown's waterfront, authorities began planning their next steps, including the search and cleanup of the scorched vessel.


"We believe the fire is probably out on the vessel," said Lt. John Forsythe with the Harbor Police Department. 

The lieutenant said crews were continuing to cool the hull with water and made progress Tuesday, checking the deck to see if it was solid enough for firefighters and investigators to walk on and opening some hatches to peek inside the ship.

The next steps, Forsythe said, will be getting San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) crews on board to conduct a thorough search of the ship as well as investigators who can start looking into the cause of the fire.

Meanwhile, U.S. Coast Guard officials are monitoring for contaminants on and around the ship including any debris burned off the vessel in the fire.


"The hull is holding any contaminants it may have on board, on board, which is a good thing," Forsythe explained.

The ship fire sparked on the morning of Sept. 30, as the vessel was docked at 750 North Harbor Drive at the San Diego Harbor. It consumed the ship's lower deck level and quickly clouded the usually-picturesque San Diego waterfront with heavy smoke that lingered through the weekend.

Firefighters haven't been able to board the ship since those early stages of the fight when they conducted a quick, preliminary search of the vessel as it burned. In that search, crews did not find any signs of life on board.

Forsythe said nothing indicates this has changed, although he said an in-depth search of the ship is forthcoming.

"So far, we don’t have any reports of anybody missing," he told NBC 7. "We’ve been in contact with the ship’s agent and they have not reported that they have caretakers missing or unaccounted for or anything like that so there’s nothing that leads us to believe that anybody’s on board, at this time."

The fire on the ship intensified quickly and the temperature aboard soared to dangerous levels, according to thermal imaging data. The ship was so hot, that water applied to its hull was boiling right off. At its peak, authorities said thermal imaging data indicated temperatures of 700+ degrees inside the vessel.


A couple of hours into the firefight, SDFD officials -- also working with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Harbor Police Department and other agencies -- decided it was too dangerous for firefighters to battle the flames on board.

They switched to a defensive tactic, spraying the ship from other emergency vessels surrounding it in the water. Shortly after that, fire officials decided to switch gears and let the blaze burn itself out, keeping a watchful eye on the ship over the next several days to make sure mooring lines didn’t ignite.

Chris Webber, Assistant Chief of Emergency Operations with SDFD told NBC 7 that ship fires are extremely difficult to manage due to a number of factors.

“These ship fires are very dangerous,” Webber told NBC 7. “If you think about it, it’s almost like a high-rise building sitting on its side. We practice and train for it as part of our normal thing but, as you can see, they are difficult. We have to pull lines all the way down to the end of the pier so that they can get into the ship.”

The fire has been burning since Friday. NBC 7’s Audra Stafford reports.

By Sunday, SDFD spokesperson Monica Munoz said officials had measured the ship's temperature at 100 degrees and, as far as they could see, the fire was contained.

Munoz said investigators were having a tough time tracking down the current owners of the ship, as their information was not found in the Coast Guard's database. The ship had been docked at the harbor for several months.

A fire ripped through a 120-foot-long fishing ship at the San Diego Harbor Friday, sending thick smoke into the air. NBC 7's Liberty Zabala reports.

Forsythe said Tuesday that U.S. Coast Guard officials had been in touch with the ship's agent, but could not elaborate on the ownership of the vessel.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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