Mon, Apr 02, 2012 - Page 4 News List

Stricken cruise ship gets escort

SITTING DUCK:A US Navy vessel joined an escort flotilla of Philippine Navy ships and a coast guard ship, because nearby waters are a popular ‘hunting ground’ for pirates

Reuters, SANDAKAN, MALAYSIA

Cruise ship Azamara Quest is picturedd off the coast of the southern Philippines on -Saturday, in a photograph released yesterday by the Philippine Air Force.

Photo: EPA

A stricken luxury cruise liner under Philippine and US naval escort was scheduled to reach a Malaysian port on Borneo Island late yesterday, Malaysian maritime officials and the ship’s owner said, after spending more than a day in waters prowled by pirates.

The Azamara Quest, carrying 600 passengers, who are mostly Westerners, and 411 crew, suffered an engine-room fire on Friday that disabled the engines and left the ship temporarily stranded off the southern Philippines coast.

The fire, the latest in a string of cruise ship accidents, was put out on Saturday, though five crew members suffered from smoke inhalation, with one requiring serious medical attention.

The 11-deck cruise liner is now heading to Sandakan port in Malaysia’s Sabah State, after engineers restored the its propulsion, sailing at between 3 knots to 6 knots an hour, Miami-based Azamara Club Cruises said in a Facebook posting on Saturday.

“The ship is expected to reach Sandakan port by 8pm,” a Malaysian maritime authority official said.

A US Navy vessel has also joined the escort flotilla comprising several Philippine Navy ships and a coast guard ship, Filipino officials said.

The vessels will follow the cruise liner until it crosses into Malaysian waters, where a Malaysian patrol ship will be on hand to escort it to Sandakan port.

The heightened security is deemed necessary because the waters off the coast of the southern Philippines and northern Sabah are key hunting grounds for pirates and the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic militant group.

The Abu Sayyaf wants an independent Islamic nation in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic Philippines and has been responsible for high profile kidnappings of Westerners, including abducting tourists from a nearby Malaysian resort island in 2000.

The rest of the cruise, carrying mainly Americans and Western Europeans, has been canceled, said Azamara Club Cruises — a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

The Azamara Quest was on a 17-night journey and departed Hong Kong on Monday last week with port calls at Manila, Balikpapan (Borneo), Palapo (Sulawesi), Benoa Bali, Semarang and Komodo in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

An official from Borneo Laju, a local agent appointed by Azamara Club Cruises to repair the ship and assist the passengers, said the guests would spend the night on the ship at Sandakan and were scheduled to disembark today.

“Engineers were able to repair one of the engines, so there was air conditioning and running water. It was not so bad,” said the Borneo Laju official, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Azamara fire was the latest in a string of cruise liner accidents. Thirty-two people died when the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized off the western coast of Italy in January and a fire on the Costra Allegra left the ship stranded in waters patrolled by pirates in the Indian Ocean for three days in February. Both ships were run by Costa Crociere SpA, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp, the world’s largest cruise operator.

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