Fire-stricken cruise ship safe at Malaysian port

EILEEN NG Associated Press Published:

SANDAKAN, Malaysia (AP) -- A luxury cruise ship stranded at sea for 24 hours because of a fire safely reached a Malaysian port where police and embassy officials stood by Sunday to help 1,000 people aboard.

The Azamara Quest drifted off the southern Philippines after flames engulfed one of its engine rooms Friday, injuring five crew members. It restored propulsion the next night and reached the harbor of Sandakan city in Malaysia's eastern state of Sabah on Borneo island late Sunday.

Police and buses waited at the port to take passengers to various hotels. Consular officials from several countries, including the U.S., Britain and Canada, were also present.

Two ambulances were seen coming out of the port shortly after the ship docked. Port officials stopped journalists from approaching the vessel because of what a Malaysian agent for the ship's operator said was part of the company's instructions.

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 fire on the Azamara Quest had been extinguished immediately, but five crew members suffered smoke inhalation, including one who was seriously injured and needed hospital care, the ship's operator has said.

The 11-deck vessel, which features a casino, spa and shopping boutiques, was carrying 590 passengers and 411 crew members. Over one-third, or 201, of the passengers were American, according to lists of passenger and crew nationalities provided by the ship captain to the Philippine coast guard.

The passengers from 25 countries also included 98 from Britain, 89 from Australia, 45 from Canada, 39 from Germany, 32 from Austria, 16 from Belgium, 14 from New Zealand and 14 from Switzerland.

Azamara Club Cruises, the ship's Miami, Florida-based operator, said in a statement earlier Sunday the ship was sailing at a top speed of only 6 knots (11 kilometers or 6.9 miles per hour) to reach Sandakan.

"Unfortunately, the ship has not been able to restore power to the air conditioning compressors," the statement said, adding that "the guest sentiment onboard continues to be calm and upbeat."

Company president Larry Pimentel is expected to meet with the passengers and crew in Sandakan by Monday.

Engineers on Saturday morning restored electricity in the ship to re-establish essentials including running water, plumbing, refrigeration and food preparation, the company said.

The company said the rest of the cruise would be canceled. It said it would fully refund the passengers and provide each guest with a future cruise certificate for the amount paid for the aborted voyage. Azamara Club Cruises is part of Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

The crew includes 119 Filipinos, 58 Indians and 50 Indonesians. The vessel left Hong Kong on Monday for what was supposed to be a 17-day Southeast Asian cruise. It made a port call in Manila and left for Sandakan on Thursday. It had been scheduled to make several stops in Indonesia before arriving in Singapore on April 12.

Instead, it drifted Saturday in the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometers (70 nautical miles) south of the Philippines' Tubbataha Reef, Philippine coast guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente said. The area lies between the Philippines and the island of Borneo, which is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Ricafrente said no distress call was received and there would be an investigation.

The ship's senior physician, Oliver Gilles, said the seriously injured crew member had 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 in January, a fire on the Costa 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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Online: http://www.azamaraclubcruises.com/about-azamara/travel-alerts

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Associated Press writers Sean Yoong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Oliver Teves in Manila contributed to this report.