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Philippine navy, coast guard rush to stricken cruise ship

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) – A Philippine Navy (PN) and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) contingent was expected to catch up Saturday night with the luxury cruise ship Azamara Quest, which had been drifting off southwestern Philippines with some 1,000 persons on board after a fire disabled its engines.

The Philippine vessels were set to escort the 11-deck cruise ship to the Malaysian border.

Struck by an engine room fire Friday night, the ship had reportedly restored emergency power but was working to restore its propulsion capabilities. None of the nearly 600 passengers, mostly Americans and Europeans, were injured but five crew members suffered bruises and injuries from smoke inhalation.

One of the injured crew members, Filipino Juan Carlos Rivera Escobar, was reported in “unstable” condition after suffering from “neurological damage due to prolonged head and smoke exposure.” He was to be taken to a hospital in Sandakan.

Philippine Coast Guard commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan said the Azamara Quest-carrying 590 passengers and 411 crew members-caught fire at 8:19 p.m. some 75 nautical miles south of Tubbataha Reef, Palawan. The fire was reportedly put out about 11 a.m. Saturday.

The PCG mobilised three of its rescue ships and coordinated with the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and Philippine Navy to assist the Azamara Quest.

Colonel Jose Cenabre, deputy naval commander for Western Mindanao, said the Air Force was ready to dispatch a plane to the area but it was told this was not necessary.

Planes on standby

Brigadier General Jose Tony Villarete, commander of the PAF’s 3rd Division in Zamboanga City, said their OV10 planes remained on standby just in case.

The ship’s operator and owner, Azamara Club Cruises, in a statement posted on its website, said the fire that broke out in the engine room was “quickly extinguished”. However, the ship had to run on generator power while the engine was being repaired.

“There were no injuries of guests reported and the atmosphere aboard is calm. In an abundance of caution, the captain initially mustered all guests to their assembly stations,” the company said.

Ensign Paterno Belarmino of the PCG Action Centre in Manila said the agency was informed about the fire by Lieutenant Christopher O’Brien of the United States Coast Guard at 7:15 a.m. Saturday.

The PCG was able to contact the ship three hours later.

The Azamara Quest’s captain, Leif Karlsson, did not provide details of the fire but said it was “under control”.

Complete equipment

“The captain’s plan was to no longer have a medical evacuation for Escobar because they have complete medical equipment. The PCG will just escort the vessel until it leaves our area of responsibility,” PCG spokesperson Lieutenant Commander Algier Ricafrente told reporters.

At around 6 a.m. Saturday, the company reported that power had been restored to one of the ship’s engines.

“This additional power has permitted the ship to reestablish air conditioning, running water, plumbing, refrigeration and food preparation onboard for the comfort of our guests and crew. While the ship does not have propulsion capabilities at this time, it is in the process of being repaired,” it said.

Five hours later, the company said the engineers on board were continuing to work on restoring propulsion to the ship.

17-night voyage

“Once they have restored propulsion, the Azamara Quest will sail directly to Sandakan (Sabah), Malaysia. When propulsion has been restored to the ship, we will be able to provide an estimated time of arrival. Until then, we will be working with our guests to determine how we can best assist them with the next steps and travel arrangements,” it said.

The ship, which was on a 17-night cruise, had come from Hong Kong. It left Manila on March 28 on its way to Sandakan. It was supposed to make port calls at Sulawesi, Bali and Komodo in Indonesia before concluding the voyage in Singapore on April 12.

In its latest update, the company said, “The damage caused by the fire will require us to cancel the rest of Azamara Quest’s voyage once the ship arrives in Sandakan. We encourage guests on the April 12, 2012, sailing of Azamara Quest to monitor this website on Monday, April 2, for an update on your voyage.”

The company set up hotlines so that relatives of guests could call their loved ones. Larry Pimentel, president and chief executive officer, was set to fly to Sandakan to meet with the passengers personally on Monday.

Azamara Club Cruises is a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., a Norwegian-American firm based in Miami which is said to be the world’s second largest cruise line operator.

It was the latest accident in the cruise industry since 32 people died when the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized off the western coast of Italy in January.

A month later, 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. With reports from AP and Reuters

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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