ROME, Feb 28 – An Italian cruise ship from the same fleet as the tragedy-struck Costa Concordia was adrift on Tuesday in pirate-infested seas off the Seychelles with no power and with more than 1,000 people on board.,
A blaze in the engine room of the Costa Allegra saw the liner stranded in the dangerous and choppy Indian Ocean seas and it was forced to make a mayday call seeking assistance from nearby vessels.
Emergency crews onboard managed to put out the fire after a few hours and nobody was injured, but the passengers were all moved onto the stricken ship’s outer decks to ensure an easier evacuation if needed.
The Costa Allegra is from the same fleet as the much larger Costa Concordia, which crashed into an Italian island in January, in a tragedy that claimed 32 lives.
The first vessel to come to Allegra’s rescue, a French 90-metre (300-foot) fishing boat, reached the liner overnight and the two captains were in radio contact, cruise operator Costa Crociere said.
“At dawn, Costa will evaluate the assistance operations the ocean-going fishing ship can provide,” a company spokesman said.
A second large fishing trawler was due to arrive at the scene, with two tugs expected a few hours later Tuesday afternoon.
Company official Giorgio Moretti said one option was to evacuate passengers and crew from the Costa Allegra onto the vessels and take them to the Seychelles archipelago, while another was to tow the boat to the islands.
“The fire has damaged the ship’s electric grid,” Moretti told reporters.
He said the passengers and crew came from 25 countries and included 135 Italians, among them nine Marines to guard against pirate attacks, 127 French people, 97 Austrians, 90 Swiss, as well as nationals from Britain, Germany, Mauritius, Russia, Slovenia and Spain.
The crew had sounded a general emergency alarm “as a precaution”, the company said in a statement.
“According to standard procedures, Costa Allegra transmitted a distress signal and the relevant authorities were alerted, including the Maritime Rescue Control Centre in Rome, Italy,” the statement said.
The Italian coast guard said the first tug boat out of two dispatched from the Seychelles was only set to arrive at around 1500 GMT on Tuesday.
The coast guard also said it was in touch with authorities in the Seychelles and that the incident happened near Alphonse Island, some 200 nautical miles from the main islands of the Indian Ocean archipelago.
All 636 passengers and 413 crew members on the ship, which left Madagascar on Saturday on its way to the Seychelles, were “in good health and were informed promptly of the situation”, it said.
A government official told AFP: “An aircraft (from the Seychelles coast guard) is flying over the vessel. Two tug boats and several vessels have been sent for assistance. Several ships in the vicinity are also being sent.”
Italy’s coast guard said the plane had already made an initial reconnaissance over the area — where Somali pirates have attacked several vessels over the past few years — and found that the ship was stable.
“The ship is completely safe. Other vessels are also on their way. The captain is updating us regularly about the situation on board,” said Cosimo Nicastro, a spokesman for the Italian coast guard.
“The Costa Allegra’s engines are out but its communications are working,” the coast guard said, adding that wind speeds in the area were around 25 knots, which can make for choppy but not gale-force conditions at sea.
The ship was at the start of a cruise which would have also taken it to Oman, the Red Sea and the Egyptian Mediterranean port of Alexandria.
Officials said it was around 20 nautical miles from tiny Alphonse Island, part of an atoll that officially belongs to the Seychelles and is known for its white sandy beaches and dense forests, as well as tortoises and rare birds.
The 1.74-square-kilometre island has a population of just a couple of hundred people and a luxury hotel, the Alphonse Island Resort.
Costa Crociere said it had been informed of the fire at 10:39 am (0939 GMT) Monday in Italy.
“Fire security procedures on board were immediately activated and special fire crews intervened. The fire was extinguished and did not extend to any other part of the ship. There were no injured or victims,” it said.
Nine people are under investigation for the January disaster, including three Costa Crociere executives, the ship’s captain and five other crew members.