More than 1,000 people were stranded aboard a Costa Cruises liner
last night, adrift in an area of the Indian Ocean renowned for
pirates, after a fire destroyed the vessel's power supplies. The
incident comes only a month after its sister ship, the Concordia,
ran aground off Italy, with the loss of 32 lives.
None of the 636 passengers and 413 crew aboard the 188m Italian- registered Costa Allegra was reported injured last night and the fire had been extinguished. Thirty-one Britons were believed to be on board.
However, they were not entirely out of danger as the stricken vessel drifted powerless about 200 nautical miles from the Seychelles' main archipelago, an area with a high risk of piracy. The fire raced through the ship's engine room while it was about 20 miles off the remote Alphonse Island.
"If pirates attack, the armed guards on board will respond. As far as I am aware, no pirates have been sighted in the area," Seychelles presidential spokeswoman Srdjana Janosevic said. The cruise firm did not confirm that there were armed guards on board, but it is not unusual in waters so close to Somalia. The passengers were waiting for rescuers without lights or air conditioning with batteries used only for essential on-board equipment. Tugs are not expected to reach the vessel until this afternoon, though a French fishing boat may arrive to provide assistance sooner.
The ship is adrift "and being pushed by the current", but is "stable and upright," Costa Cruises official Giorgio Moretti said last night.
Italian coast guard commander Cosimo Nicastro said he had been told by the ship's captain that "the passengers are fine" and the "fire danger was over". For "precautionary reasons" passengers were assembled at lifeboat collection points, the coastguard said.
Costa Cruises confirmed that the authorities were working "to provide the necessary support to the ship, depending on how the situation evolved."
The ship, built in 1992, had departed from Mauritius on the way to the Seychelles, where it should have arrived this morning.
The incident is another PR disaster for the company, which is still reeling from last month's disaster. On Jan. 13, its Costa Concordia struck rocks and partially capsized by the island of Giglio, off the Tuscan coast, with the deaths of 32 people, some of whose bodies have yet to be recovered.
Last week, it emerged that Italian prosecutors had placed three senior Costa executives, including marine-operations director Roberto Ferrarini and vice-president Manfred Ursprunger, under investigation on suspicion of having been "culpably unaware of the real situation on board the ship" and failing to verify the information provided by the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino.
Schettino is under house arrest suspected of multiple manslaughter and of abandoning ship before his passengers. The company is facing multiple lawsuits related to the incident.
Just over a year ago, the United States Coast Guard criticised fire-safety standards on the Splendor passenger liner, owned by Costa's U.S. parent company, Carnival Cruises, after an engine-room fire on Nov. 8, 2010, left the vessel stranded offshore with 4,500 passengers and crew. It had to be towed to a Mexican port with the help of the U.S. Navy. Other Carnival liners including the Ecstasy, Celebration and Tropicale have also suffered serious fires.
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