Vessel reaches stranded cruise ship

2012-02-28 07:30
Nairobi - The Seychelles Coast Guard says that a French vessel has reached an Italian cruise ship adrift in the Indian Ocean and is towing it to an island.

The coast guard said on Tuesday that authorities are making arrangements for the evacuation of those onboard to the island of Descroches - and then their transfer to Seychelles' main island.

The Italian cruise liner Costa Allegra, carrying more than 1 000 passengers and crew, began drifting without power on Monday after a fire in its generator room. Officials said the blaze, which was extinguished, caused no injuries.

Two tug boats from Seychelles are expected to reach the cruise ship on Tuesday afternoon and will it tow it back under military escort. Somali pirates are active in the region but have not been sighted near the ship.

Monday's fire on the Costa Allegra immediately raised fears, since it occurred 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. Both ships are operated by Costa Crociere SpA, which is owned by the Florida-based Carnival Corp.

Waves

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 on Monday from company headquarters in Genoa, Italy.

No one was injured in the fire in the generator room and the cause of the fire was under investigation, Moretti said. The fire knocked out power to the ship's engines as well as to its lights and air conditioning.

Italian Coast Guard officials said emergency generators were keeping the ship's control room illuminated and communications equipment such as radios running. Officials said the cruise liner was holding steady, despite 1.5m waves in the area and passengers were being kept in the ship's big communal rooms, not in their cabins.

Moretti, a long-time Costa captain, said he expected the 636 passengers aboard would spend the night on outside decks. Among them were 212 Italian, 31 British and eight US passengers, he said. Four of the passengers were children ages 3 or younger.

Costa Crociere SpA said in a statement the ship was about 32km from Alphonse Island, one of the atolls in the Seychelles, a nation of islands and atolls that is a popular tourist destination.

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

Somali pirates


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 Seychelles presidential spokesperson Srdjana Janosevic.

- AP
Read more on:    north africa  |  maritime
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