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Condor Express returns to Santa Barbara after devastating fire

By John Palminteri, KEYT NewsChannel 3 Senior Reporter, johnp1250@aol.com
Published On: May 31 2013 07:29:43 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 01 2013 01:46:08 PM CDT

The Condor Express returned to Santa Barbara Friday morning.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

The Condor Express has returned to Santa Barbara nearly three months after a tragic fire on board the popular whale watching boat.

The fire in early March, after it had docked for the day,  came the same week, owner Fred Benko died.

It was a terrible loss for the Benko family and heartbreaking for the waterfront community.

Since then $650,000 in repairs took place at the Ventura Harbor Boatyard.

It included rebuilding the wheel house, rewiring the vessel, and repainting everything, inside and out.

Today there was quite a celebration.

"It was so exciting. I am so honored," said owner Hiroko Benko with a big smile on board the Condor Express with many friends and crew members

Captain Mat Curto said the repair effort was underway within days of the fire, and workers put in six and sometimes seven days a week on the job.  "We had 35 to 40 guys working on the project at any given time.   The crew at the Ventura Harbor Boatyard was phenomenal on getting this thing done as quick as they did," said Curto.

On board a trial ride, Tara Stoker said, the Condor Express has been able to bring thousands of people to the rare offshore areas few get a chance to see. "It’s so significant that people have the ability  to come out and  see all the wonderful sea life we have to offer here in Santa Barbara," she said.

Now it's back in business and booking cruises and events.

"Our first whale watch is tomorrow. We are doing a private party cruise tonight," said Curto who is looking forward to seeing humpback and blue whales.

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