Fire destroys Alaska cruise boat at Seattle service dock; crew flees

A cruise boat was destroyed by fire while on a maintenance visit at a Seattle dock. The owner said open solvent cans on deck may have been a factor.

The 104-foot Safari Spirit burned at Fishermen’s Terminal on April 27 and was declared a “constructive” loss that is beyond repair. The vessel had been docked for general maintenance in preparation for the upcoming Alaska cruise season, which was to begin on May 11.

Dan Blanchard, the boat’s captain and owner, said he and one crewman escaped just in time.

“I was asleep in the stateroom when I heard popping and crackling noises,” Blanchard said. “I went to wake the engineer, who is also my mate, and we got off the boat as quickly as possible. Had we taken another two minutes we would not have survived.”

Blanchard said that when he and the mate reached the dock, the firefighters had already arrived. “They wanted to sink the boat but I said no. It continued to burn,” he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Seattle Fire Department responded to the fire, which was reported at 0100, said Coast Guard spokesman Nathan R. Littlejohn.

“The Seattle Fire Department and Harbor Patrol arrived on scene and found the vessel on fire and three other boats in danger of catching fire,” Littlejohn said. “Harbor Patrol untied the three exposure vessels while Seattle Fire continued to fight the fire. After 20 minutes of firefighting, the fire chief requested Coast Guard assistance.”

A 25-foot response boat enforced a 200-yard safety zone.

“Firefighters used two hose lines and foam to battle the heavy flames from the concrete dock while Engine 1, the Seattle Fire Fast Attack Boat, battled the flames from the water,” said Kyle Moore, spokesman for the Seattle Fire Department. “The Seattle Police Department’s Harbor Patrol boat worked to move three boats on the east side of the dock away from the flames.”

Due to the amount of water accumulating in the bilge, the charter boat began to list. Firefighters used pumps to extract the water from the lower decks of the vessel and prevented it from sinking.

The fire department, with assistance from the 45-foot Coast Guard response boat, placed booms around the vessel to contain any fuel or oil that may have leaked into the water.  The Washington State Department of Ecology spill responders were on scene to monitor the incident.

Blanchard’s main concern with sinking was the risk of pollution. He said the blaze did not appear to be coming from below and that the fuel tanks did not appear to be affected. He turned out to be correct. While the topside of the boat was destroyed, the engine room and tanks remained intact, he said.

An investigation is underway to determine what caused the fire. Blanchard said subcontractors had left behind open solvent cans, which could have served as an accelerant.

“The solvent cans were on the aft deck that was facing south,” Blanchard said. “When they ignited, a southerly wind drove the fire forward toward a covered section of deck that had a fair amount of wood trim.” Blanchard said that he did not yet know what initially caused the ignition.

As captain of the vessel, he felt that it was his obligation to keep the vessel afloat and prevent any possible pollution. In this case, no pollution resulted despite the fact that the vessel was carrying 3,000 gallons of diesel.

“As captain I am obligated to cooperate with the responders, but not to abdicate my responsibility," Blanchard said. "The boat was also my home."

By Professional Mariner Staff