At least 1000 passengers including the crew members are stranded as a crippled Italian cruise ship from the same fleet as the doomed Costa Concordia was being towed ashore through pirate-infested waters in the Indian Ocean to the Seychelles- for expected arrival by Thursday.
The more than 1,000 people on board the Costa Allegra spent a second night on the ship’s decks in sweltering temperatures after a fire on Monday took out the air-conditioning system along with the entire power supply and the engines.
A French tuna fishing boat, the Trevignon, responded to the Costa Allegra’s mayday call and was towing the boat solo, crawling along at a speed of around six knots (11 kilometres per hour, seven miles per hour) through calm seas.
A helicopter on Tuesday brought food, satellite phones and VHF radios to the ship and cruise operator Costa Crociere said in a statement that a second helicopter run on Wednesday would deliver fresh bread and flashlights.
Two Seychelles customs officials were also due to board the vessel on Wednesday, along with eight members of Costa Crociere’s “Care Team”, it said.
Two Seychelles tugboats were also on hand to provide support if needed.
The company said it expected the Costa Allegra to arrive in Mahe, the main island of the Seychelles archipelago, in the early morning of Thursday.
It also said a Seychelles coast guard vessel brought a small emergency power generator to the Costa Allegra on Tuesday to help restore some basic services.
An Indian naval aircraft flying overhead on Tuesday took photographs showing people crowded around one of the cruise ship’s swimming pools.
Relatives of the people on board said they were anxious to speak to their loved ones, who are still far from mobile network coverage.
“I’ll only be calm when I can speak to her,” Luigi Tortorella, brother of Angela Tortorella who works as an animator on the ship, told ANSA news agency.
Meanwhile British mother Jayne Thomas spoke of her shock at learning that her daughter was on board the stricken ship, just weeks after her son survived the sinking of the Costa Concordia off Italian shores.
Thomas said her son and daughter both worked as dancers on the Costa ships.
“I thought it was a one-off,” Thomas told BBC television, adding: “I really didn’t think disaster could strike twice.”
The fire broke out near the ship’s generators in the engine room as the Costa Allegra was making its way from Madagascar, which it departed on Saturday, to the Seychelles, where it had been due to arrive on Tuesday.
Emergency crews on board extinguished the fire after a few hours and no one was injured, but the liner was left powerless and adrift.
In the Seychelles, presidential spokeswoman Srdjana Janosevic said preparations were being made for accommodation and international flights.
“Expected time of arrival is between late evening of Wednesday and early morning of Thursday, depending on the sea conditions,” she said.
The Costa Allegra was being towed earlier on Tuesday to the tiny remote island of Desroches, also part of the Seychelles, but the course was changed when officials deemed the facilities there inadequate for large numbers.
Costa Crociere said there were 636 passengers and 413 crew members from 25 countries on board the ship, including nine Italian Marines hired to guard against possible pirate attacks. It said everyone was in good health.
Among those on board are 135 Italians, 127 French, 97 Austrians, 90 Swiss, as well as large contingents from Britain, Germany, Russia and Spain.
Navy planes from India and the Seychelles are taking it in turns to monitor the boat’s progress, Janosevic said, adding the situation on the ship was “quiet” and that beyond the technical issues “there is no problem for now.”
The Costa Allegra is owned by the same company as the much larger Costa Concordia, which crashed off the Italian island of Giglio and keeled over last month with 4,229 people on board in a tragedy that claimed 32 lives.
Nine people are under investigation for the disaster, including three Costa Crociere executives, the Costa Concordia’s captain and five other crew members.
A team of officials from Italy’s coast guard and transport ministry flew to the Seychelles Tuesday to investigate the accident and help disembarkation.
After the Seychelles, an idyllic archipelago of more than 115 islands, the Costa Allegra had been due to travel along the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.