Sandakan: Passengers of a fire-damaged luxury cruise ship lauded the captain and crew on Monday for maintaining order and bringing them safely ashore in Malaysia after 24 hours adrift in Philippine waters.
The Azamara Quest was stranded off the southern Philippines with 1,000 people aboard after flames engulfed one of its engine rooms on Friday, injuring five crew members. It restored propulsion the next night and reached the harbour of Sandakan city in Malaysia`s eastern state of Sabah on Borneo island late Sunday.
More than two hours after the ship docked, buses took passengers — many smiling despite looking tired — to hotels at around midnight. Malaysian police and consular officials from countries including the US, Britain and Canada were also present.
The fire, which was immediately extinguished, knocked out air conditioning on the ship. Passenger Diane Becker Krasnick of St Thomas, US Virgin Islands, said conditions were very hot.
"It was unfortunate, but the crew was totally, utterly amazing, taking care of us, making sure we were safe, pulling double duty, made sure that we got everything that we needed," said Krasnick, who was celebrating her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband, Mark.
Videos and photographs shot by Krasnick obtained by a news agency showed passengers wearing life vests on Friday night at the ship`s cabaret lounge, which along with a casino were turned into gathering areas for roll calls.
Some passengers said the incident initially made them think other luxury cruise accidents this year. But they stressed the situation was nowhere as bad as what happened to the Costa Concordia, which capsized off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people in January.
Margaret Whawell of Melbourne, Australia, said there had been "no panic, no chaos. Everything was under control”.
"The captain was phenomenal," Dorothy Irvine, a retired school principal from Toronto, said in Sandakan.
Five crew members suffered smoke inhalation. A Sandakan hospital staff member said a Guatemalan man was being treated, but could not give other details.
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 that the ship was sailing at a top speed of only 6 knots (11 kilometres or 6.9 miles per hour) to reach Sandakan.
Company president Larry Pimentel is expected to meet with the passengers and crew in Sandakan on 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 cancelled. 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.
Passengers have been given several options for what to do in the next few days, such as fly home through Singapore.
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, the Philippine coast guard said it drifted on Saturday in the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometres (70 nautical miles) south of the Philippines` Tubbataha Reef. The area lies between the Philippines and the island of Borneo, which is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia.
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.