Boat fire near Seaport Village not arson, investigators say

SAN DIEGO — Authorities Thursday were still attempting to untangle a complicated web of ownership details linked to a fire-gutted boat that smoldered for several days over the weekend near Seaport Village in the San Diego Harbor, but investigators ruled out arson as the cause of the flames.

What started the fire, which began Friday morning aboard the Norton Sound, was still undetermined Thursday, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokeswoman Monica Munoz said. The blaze was fully knocked down Sunday, but investigators were unable to probe its origins until mid-week.

A hazardous-materials team was first onboard the scorched fishing trawler Wednesday afternoon to test the air quality, Munoz said. The team double-checked that the fire was completely out and determined there were no hazards on the ship.

“The fire investigators boarded next and spent several hours searching the ship,” Munoz said. “Ultimately they determined there was no evidence of arson. The cause of the fire is undetermined.”

The fire department is preparing a report on the blaze in conjunction with investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The San Diego Harbor Police Department has taken over management of the incident.

The next step in the clean-up effort will be to move the Norton Sound — a task for the ship’s owner to undertake — once the burned-out vessel’s structural integrity is evaluated.

But locating the owner has proven difficult.

Initially, the U.S. Coast Guard believed they’d found the owner over the weekend, but the Tijuana man they contacted said he’d sold the vessel. Authorities from the Port of San Diego spent the weekend and the early parts of this week seeking the new owner.

Port officials now know that San Diego-based company Charles Dorsch Ships Agents handled dockage and berthing of the ship in the San Diego Bay, Port spokeswoman Brianne Page said. But Charles Dorsch Ships Agents acted only as a representative for a Mexican company, located in the state of Jalisco on the central Pacific coast, that in turn represents the owner of the ship.

Port officials Thursday still did not know the identity of that owner.

Because of the complicated web of ownership, it was still unclear Thursday when the Norton Sound would be structurally evaluated and finally moved.