Stricken Cruise Ship Repaired, Heading to Malaysia

By OLIVER TEVES | April 2, 2012

A cruise ship with 1,000 people on board that drifted in southern Philippine waters for 24 hours after being disabled by a fire was headed toward Malaysia after repairs, the Philippine coast guard said Saturday.

The Azamara Quest informed the coast guard late Saturday that its power and propulsion had been restored and it was moving slowly toward Sandakan, its next destination after it left Manila Thursday, spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente said.

Azamara Club Cruises, the ship’s operator, said in a statement Saturday night that the ship was sailing at 3 to 6 knots (5.6-11 kilometers or 3.5-6.9 miles per hour) and was expected to reach Sandakan “within 24 to 48 hours.”

It said company president Larry Pimentel will meet personally with the passengers and crew in Sandakan.

The company said the rest of the cruise would be canceled. It said it will fully refund the passengers as a “gesture of goodwill” and provide each guest with a future cruise certificate for the amount paid for the aborted voyage.

A coast guard vessel sent to assist the cruise liner reported that it had sighted the ship from about 9 kilometers (5 nautical miles) away and was approaching it.

The ship’s captain had earlier sent an email to the coast guard saying that it needed no assistance and that everything was “under control.”

The ship had been drifting since a fire broke out Friday night. The flames engulfed one of the ship’s engine rooms but were quickly extinguished, Azamara Club Cruises said. Five crew suffered smoke inhalation, including one who was seriously injured and needed hospital care.

It was the latest in a series of accidents hitting luxury cruise liners since January, when the Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people.

The Azamara Quest has 590 passengers and 411 crew members. Operator Azamara Club Cruises is part of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

The stricken ship drifted Saturday in the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometers (70 nautical miles) south of the Philippines’ Tubbataha Reef, Ricafrente said. The area lies between the Philippines and the island of Borneo, which is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia.

The vessel had left Hong Kong on Monday for what was supposed to be a 17-day Southeast Asian cruise. The ship made a port call in Manila and left for Sandakan on Thursday. It was scheduled to make several stops in Indonesia before arriving in Singapore on April 12.

The ship’s senior physician, Oliver Gilles, said that the crew member who was in serious condition suffered “prolonged heat and smoke exposure.”

There were no information about the nationalities of the passengers and crew. British media said they included Britons and Americans.

Ricafrente said that no distress call was received and there would be an investigation.

Engineers had earlier Saturday restored electricity in the ship to re-establish air conditioning, running water, plumbing, refrigeration and food preparation, the company said.

A month after 32 people died when the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized off the western coast of Italy, a fire on the Costra Allegra left that ship without power and adrift in waters known to be prowled by pirates in the Indian Ocean for three days.

Both Costa ships are part of Costa Crociere, SpA, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator.

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