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Crippled cruise ship moving through pirate-infested waters

By Frances D'Emilio and Jason Straziuso

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 05:47 a.m. HST, Feb 28, 2012


 

NAIROBI, Kenya >> A crippled Italian cruise ship being towed in the Indian Ocean with more than 1,000 people aboard and no air conditioning now won't reach land in the Seychelles until Thursday, officials said.

The cruise ship company said that food, satellite phones and VHF radios would be brought to the Costa Allegra by helicopter. Photos released on Tuesday showed hundreds of people milling on the ship's outside decks, and officials said passengers would sleep there as well instead of in their unlit cabins.

The Costa Allegra has 636 passengers and 413 crew members on board: Among them are 212 Italian, 31 British and eight U.S. passengers. Four of the passengers are children ages 3 or younger.

The ship lost power Monday after a fire in its generator room, which knocked out power to the ship's engines as well as to its lights and air conditioning.

Cruise ship officials had said that they would be taking the stranded travelers by Wednesday to Desroches, a small, exclusive coral-lined island in the Seychelles. However, they later said Tuesday that they would instead bring them to the main Seychelles island of Mahe.

The cruise ship company said the change was done for safety and logistical reasons, and that the Allegra would reach Mahe early Thursday. Two tug boats have joined a French fishing vessel to tow the cruise ship.

The fire aboard the Costa Allegra comes only six weeks after one of its sister ships, the Costa Concordia, hit a reef and capsized off Italy, killing 25 people and leaving seven missing and presumed dead.

No one was injured in the fire Monday, but the blaze set the cruiseliner adrift at sea in a region where Somali pirates prey on ships.

Both ships are operated by Costa Crociere SpA, which is owned by the Florida-based Carnival Corp.

However, company officials rushed to play down concerns.

The Costa Allegra is adrift "and being pushed by the current. It is stable and upright," Giorgio Moretti, the director of nautical operations for Costa Crociere SpA, told reporters in a conference call late Monday from company headquarters in Genoa, Italy.

"It's a big ship and to tow it, to move it across the waters, is a heavy task," said Seychelles presidential spokeswoman Srdjana Janosevic. She said that everything is calm on board the cruise ship and that no one is hurt.

Italian Coast Guard officials said emergency generators were keeping the ship's control room illuminated and communications equipment such as radios running.

The Allegra, whose Italian name means "merry," or "happy," had left northern Madagascar, off Africa's southeast coast, on Saturday and was cruising toward Port Victoria when the fire erupted. Costa said the Allegra had been due in Port Victoria on Tuesday.

The general region where the cruise ship was adrift — off the coast of Tanzania — has seen a rash of attacks by Somali pirates. In 2009, an Italian cruise ship with 1,500 people aboard fended off a pirate attack in the Indian Ocean far off the coast of Somalia.

Moretti said an armed nine-member Italian military team on anti-pirate duty was aboard the Allegra, but he insisted the maritime region where the ship was now "isn't a high risk area for pirates."

"If pirates attack, the armed guards on board will respond. But as far as I am aware, no pirates have been sighted in the area," said Janosevic.

Moretti said 15 Costa engineers, technicians and other officials were flying to Mahe in hope of reaching the Allegra by air to repair its generators.

____

D'Emilio reported from Rome.







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