Indian Navy via Seychelles Office of the President, Associated Press
NAIROBI, Kenya — Helicopters will ferry food and flashlights to more than 1,000 passengers and crew stuck aboard a disabled cruise ship that is being towed to the Seychelles Islands through waters prowled by pirates, officials said Tuesday.
Still, those aboard the sister ship of the vessel that capsized off Italy last month may have to spend more long, stifling nights aboard the Costa Allegra before it docks in the tropical paradise.
Cruise ship company officials said the Costa Allegra could reach the main Seychelles island of Mahe by late Wednesday or early Thursday, depending on sea conditions.
The Costa Allegra has 636 passengers and 413 crew members on board: Among them are 212 Italian, 31 British and eight U.S. passengers. Four of the passengers are children ages 3 or younger.
The ship lost power Monday after a fire in its generator room, which knocked out power to the ship's engines as well as to its lights and air conditioning.
Cruise ship officials had said that they would be taking the stranded travelers by Wednesday to Desroches, a small, exclusive coral-lined island in the Seychelles. However, they later said Tuesday that they would instead bring them to Mahe.
The cruise ship company said the change was done for safety and logistical reasons. Two tug boats have joined a French fishing vessel to tow the cruise ship, which is being escorted by the Seychelles coast guard ship 'Andromache' and an air force plane.
The fire aboard the Costa Allegra comes only six weeks after one of its sister ships, the Costa Concordia, hit a reef and capsized off Italy, killing 25 people and leaving seven missing and presumed dead.
No one was injured in the fire Monday, but the blaze set the cruiseliner adrift at sea in a region where Somali pirates prey on ships.
Both ships are operated by Costa Crociere SpA, which is owned by the Florida-based Carnival Corp.
However, company officials rushed to play down concerns.
The Costa Allegra is adrift "and being pushed by the current. It is stable and upright," Giorgio Moretti, the director of nautical operations for Costa Crociere SpA, told reporters in a conference call late Monday from company headquarters in Genoa, Italy.
"It's a big ship and to tow it, to move it across the waters, is a heavy task," said Seychelles presidential spokeswoman Srdjana Janosevic. She said that everything is calm on board the cruise ship and that no one is hurt.
Italian Coast Guard officials said emergency generators were keeping the ship's control room illuminated and communications equipment such as radios running.
The Allegra, whose Italian name means "merry," or "happy," had left northern Madagascar, off Africa's southeast coast, on Saturday and was cruising toward Port Victoria when the fire erupted. Costa said the Allegra had been due in Port Victoria on Tuesday.
The general region where the cruise ship was adrift — off the coast of Tanzania — has seen a rash of attacks by Somali pirates. In 2009, an Italian cruise ship with 1,500 people aboard fended off a pirate attack in the Indian Ocean far off the coast of Somalia.
Moretti said an armed nine-member Italian military team on anti-pirate duty was aboard the Allegra, but he insisted the maritime region where the ship was now "isn't a high risk area for pirates."
"If pirates attack, the armed guards on board will respond. But as far as I am aware, no pirates have been sighted in the area," said Janosevic.
Moretti said 15 Costa engineers, technicians and other officials were flying to Mahe in hope of reaching the Allegra by air to repair its generators.
Simpson reported from Rome.
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