Saturday, March 31, 2012

Aussies Aboard Stricken Cruise Ship

Eighty-nine Australians are aboard a cruise ship that drifted for 24 hours off the Philippines after being disabled by a fire. The Philippine coast guard said the ship, with 1000 people on board, had been repaired and is heading slowly to Malaysia. The Azamara Quest, which had embarked on a 17-day cruise of south-east Asia, was left drifting in southern Philippine waters after a fire broke out on Friday night. The flames engulfed one of the ship's engine rooms but were quickly extinguished, the ship's operator said. Five crew members suffered smoke inhalation, including one who was seriously injured and needed hospital care. The ship informed the coast guard late yesterday Saturday that its power and propulsion had been restored and it was moving slowly toward Sandakan on the east coast of Borneo, its next destination after it left Manila last Thursday. Azamara Club Cruises, the ship's operator, said in a statement that the ship was sailing at a top speed of only six knots (11km/h) and was expected to reach Sandakan "within 24 to 48 hours". It said company president Larry Pimentel would meet personally with the passengers and crew in Sandakan. The company said the rest of the cruise would be cancelled. It said it would 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. 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 is carrying 590 passengers and 411 crew members. Operator Azamara Club Cruises is part of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. More than one-third, or 201, of the passengers on board are American, and nearly one-third, or 119, of the crew are Filipinos, according to lists of passenger and crew nationalities provided by the ship captain to the coast guard.
The Azamara Quest
The vessel had left Hong Kong on Monday. 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. But instead the stricken ship drifted yesterday in the Sulu Sea, about 130 kilometres 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. A woman from Kailua-Kuna, Hawaii, who said she was one of the passengers, posted an entry on Azamara's Facebook page after internet service was restored on the ship, praising the crew's handling of the situation. "No A/C yet but everyone is fine," she said. "Cannot say enough about this Captain and the crew. They have been absolutely wonderful keeping us updated constantly with the good or the bad. ... Sorry that we cannot finish our cruise, but we will back ASAP." She said the crew worked with very little rest "to keep us all in good spirits, well fed and comfortable". There was a jar where passengers could place donations to help the injured crewman who was in serious condition, she said. Ricafrente said that no distress call was received and there would be an investigation. A Philippine coast guard vessel approached the Azamara Quest, but the ship's captain sent an email to the coast guard saying that it needed no assistance and that everything was "under control". Engineers yesterday restored electricity in the ship to re-establish air conditioning, running water, plumbing, refrigeration and food preparation, the company said. The ship's senior physician, Oliver Gilles, said that the crew member who was in serious condition suffered "prolonged heat and smoke exposure". 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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