Stricken Costa Allegra reaches port, passengers were readied to abandon ship, captain says

Exhausted passengers, including 13 Canadians, left the stricken Costa Allegra cruise ship in the Seychelles capital Victoria on Thursday, ending a three-day ordeal in the Indian Ocean after a fire knocked out the vessel’s main power supply.

An engine-room fire on Monday disabled the ship’s engines in waters prowled by pirates.

The ship is owned by the company whose giant liner Costa Concordia smashed into rocks off Italy and capsized last month, killing at least 25 people.

Passengers on the Allegra were readied to abandon ship after it was disabled, the captain told Agence France-Presse on Thursday.

Guests were prepared to disembark, they put on life vests and were taken to lifeboats. The emergency situation lasted for three hours to make sure the fire was completely out,” Niccolo Alba said after docking in the Seychelles.

“Obviously all the passengers were assembled at the muster stations to prepare to board the lifeboats,” after the fire broke out in the engine room on Monday. “All the passengers were absolutely calm,” the captain added.

A French tuna-fishing boat towed the stricken Costa Allegra to Mahe, the main island in the Seychelles archipelago, where ambulances, a Red Cross medical team and a fleet of small buses awaited the passengers.

A passenger from the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, who declined to be named, said he felt tired and dirty and had been afraid of pirate attacks, but there was never any shortage of drinking water or cold food.

Passengers lined the upper deck waiting calmly to disembark. More than half of the 636 passengers aboard have chosen to stay on in the Seychelles and they were ushered into waiting buses to take them to their hotels. The others will be flown home.

An official from the Ministry of Health, who declined to be named, said six passengers had broken limbs and others were bruised but he would not say how the injuries occurred.

One woman was rushed into an ambulance and another needed to be supported as she walked off the ship.

“A fire broke out in one of the generator rooms… there is an investigation underway right now into what started the fire,” Capt. Alba told reporters, adding that ship’s crew put out the blaze “in under an hour.”

The captain said a diesel-powered generator designed to take over power generation in an emergency had worked for only a few hours before breaking down.

“Unfortunately after four hours the emergency diesel generator broke down and we couldn’t get it to work again. An inquiry is under way.”

“Our guests were constantly informed of the situation through announcements. We realised that the lack of power would create discomfort — for air conditioning, for the toilets, for water,” the captain added.

A passenger from Germany, who declined to be named, said they had been ready to jump into lifeboats when the power went out throughout the ship, but soon realised there was no major danger.

“Nothing was working so we realized this was not minor damage,” he said. “The crew were great. They tried the best they could to make us comfortable.”

A team from Costa Cruises, a unit of the U.S. cruise line giant Carnival Corp. , boarded the Costa Allegra on Wednesday to make arrangements for hotel accommodation and onward flights for the passengers.

More than 600 airline seats and 400 rooms had been reserved, the cruise company said.

The passengers, including four children, are from 25 nations. The largest contingents are 127 from France and 126 from Italy. Alongside the 13 Canadians, there were also 38 Germans, 31 Britons and eight Americans.

The Costa Allegra left Diego Suarez in Madagascar on Saturday and, sailing northeast, had been due to dock in Mahe on Tuesday.

The ship, at 29,000 tonnes, is several times smaller than the huge Costa Concordia which capsized off Italy.

Costa Cruises said 376 passengers had accepted its offer to continue their holiday in the Seychelles, where a carnival kicks off on Friday, at the firm’s expense. But others had had enough.

“I am no longer in the mood for a holiday. I want to go home as soon as I can,” said another passenger.

© Thomson Reuters 2012. With files from Agence France-Presse