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The cause of a fire that reduced a reported $2.5-million yacht to its waterline on March 15 in the U.S. Virgin Islands’ port of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, remains under investigation. The blaze erupted around 1 p.m. on the 84-foot Monte Fino motor yacht Positive Energy, while the yacht was docked in its slip at IGY’s 48-slip megayacht facility, the Yacht Haven Grande (YHG) marina. What could have turned into a multi-vessel catastrophe in one of the busiest harbors in the world, was contained to one craft thanks to the quick thinking and cooperative efforts of many responding agencies.
John Holmberg, a local captain who care takes a 70-foot yacht docked at YHG was alerted to the fire via a photos texted by his daughter, who works in offices above the harbor.
“I called the owner, who was on board, and by the time I arrived she had the generator going and were ready to slip the lines. There was no way I wanted to stay in the marina with a boat on fire,” says Holmberg.
It was Captain Benjamin ‘Benjy’ Schwartz, who received several calls for assistance and jumped into action. Schwartz, who owns Virgin Islands-based Morgan Maritime Services Ltd., was working nearby aboard his aluminum pump-out vessel.
“When I arrived, the Virgin Islands Fire Department was already on scene and onboard, plus fire crews from the neighboring cruise ships had come over to help. We quickly determined that the fire couldn’t be rapidly extinguished. It was right near the fuel dock, so we knew we had to move it out of the marina. So, I attached a tow line while it was still possible to do so and towed it to a less crowded area of the harbor and nearer to shore where the blaze could be more easily battled,” says Schwartz.
The U.S. Coast Guard was notified of the incident by a 911 call to Sector San Juan, which then coordinated its effort with the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment in St. Thomas, according to Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad.
“The yacht had been removed from the marina, away from the cruise ships and not impeding the navigational waters, by the time our crews arrived on scene. Once there, our crews established a safety zone of about 200 feet around the vessel. We then moved to assess and address the potential for environmental pollutants and our crews continue to work with the owner on clean-up plans,” says Castrodad.
The fire had been completely contained by 6 p.m. local time. As a direct result of the combined reactions of the YHG staff, the WICO security team, Virgin Islands Fire Department, Virgin Islands Police Department, cruise lines, the U.S. Coast Guard, and additional various agencies, the incident was effectively contained, according to a statement issued by IGY Yacht Haven Grande.
“I am proud of the effort made by our firefighters and other responders today,” said acting Governor Osbert Potter, in a release by Government House. “By containing this fire to the one vessel where it apparently started we averted what could have been a tragedy and, most importantly, no one was injured.”
March 15, 2016
The Triton received photos this afternoon of smoke coming from a yacht at Yacht Haven Grande in St. Thomas, USVI. The name of the yacht is not confirmed.
2:25 p.m. update: A marina staff at the marina said she could not answer questions about the incident, but said that, “everyone is ok”.
4:35 p.m. update: A marina staff member said IGY Marinas, owner of the property, is preparing a statement for the press.
5:06 p.m. Confirmation from IGY marketing manager that, “All are safe and no injuries occurred as a result of the incident.”
6:30 p.m. local time: IGY issues press release:
“Earlier today, a fire occurred on a vessel at The Yacht Haven Grande Marina. All parties are believed to be safe with no injuries reported. The marina crew and security team responded immediately alongside emergency services. Due to the nature of the fire, it could not be extinguished. To ensure the safety of neighboring vessels and their crews, the U.S. Coast Guard relocated the vessel to a safe location where authorities continue to manage and contain the incident.
For the rapid response and support, Yacht Haven Grande and IGY Marinas would like to sincerely thank all the members of its staff, the WICO security team, Virgin Islands Fire Department, Virgin Islands Police Department, and members of responding teams including; first responders from the cruise lines, Sea Tow, the U.S. Coast Guard, and additional various agencies. As a direct result of their combined reactions, the incident was effectively contained.
As of 6:00 p.m. local time, the fire has been completely contained. The fire department is continuing to spread water on the areas still smoldering. The vessel has been secured and containment measures are in place around the vessel to address potential contaminants entering the water. Again, there are no reported injuries as a result of the incident.
No details of how the fire started have been made available. As part of Yacht Haven Grande’s security protocol, and in consideration of the privacy of the owner, captain or crew, the name of the boat and any related individuals will be withheld.”
8:00 p.m. Video submitted by Paula Hodge shows yacht name on stern as M/Y Positive Energy.
Click for videos (see all four videos on her YouTube channel):
March 15 update from IGY:
“Following is an update regarding the vessel fire that occurred at Yacht Haven Grande on March 15, 2016:
Clean-Up Efforts Commence After Vessel Fire
Yacht Haven Grande, the USVI Department of Planning and National Resources (DPNR) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) are working collaboratively to coordinate the environmental clean-up and removal of the remains of the vessel that burned in Long Bay, St. Thomas this past Tuesday. Measures were taken during the fire to contain any debris and/or contaminants. The clean-up process began immediately after the fire was extinguished. All agencies are focused on completing these efforts as thoroughly and quickly as possible in order to minimize any negative impact on the local marine ecology. To ensure the safety of pedestrians, security of equipment and personnel working in the area and of the vessel itself, the area surrounding the vessel will be closed to pedestrian traffic effective Friday, March 18, 2016.
We greatly appreciate the cooperation and support of the DPNR, the USCG, and the various local agencies working with us in this matter. Additional information will be made available as soon as possible.”
Photos in gallery by Dean Barnes