Adrift in the sea: Bemidji residents on stricken cruise ship in South China Sea
MANILA, Philippines (AP) - A cruise ship with 1,000 people on board that had drifted for 24 hours after being disabled by a fire was headed toward Malaysia following repairs, the Philippine coast guard said Saturday.
The Azamara Quest that had embarked on a 17-day Southeast Asian cruise was left drifting in southern Philippine waters after a fire broke out Friday night. The flames engulfed one of the ship's engine rooms but were quickly extinguished, the ship's operator said. Five crew members suffered smoke inhalation, including one who was seriously injured and needed hospital care.
Of the 1,000 people on board, 10 are from Bemidji: June Buenger, Miriam Smart, Susan Sandell, Sue Cuperus, Keven and Susan Lind, Jeff and Evi Thompson, and Patt and Ernie Rall. Patt Rall is an arts and entertainment reporter for the Pioneer newspaper. A former Bemidjian, Diane Patnode, also is on the ship. All of them were uninjured from the dramatic events on the ship.
The ship informed the coast guard late Saturday that its power and propulsion had been restored and it was moving slowly toward Sandakan, its next destination after it left Manila Thursday, spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente said.
Azamara Club Cruises, the ship's operator, said in a statement Saturday night that the ship was sailing at a top speed of only 6 knots (11 kilometers or 6.9 miles per hour) and was expected to reach Sandakan "within 24 to 48 hours."
It said company president Larry Pimentel will meet personally with the passengers and crew in Sandakan.
The company said the rest of the cruise would be canceled. It said it will fully refund the passengers as a "gesture of goodwill" and provide each guest with a future cruise certificate for the amount paid for the aborted voyage.
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 Azamara Quest is carrying 590 passengers and 411 crew members. Operator Azamara Club Cruises is part of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
More than one third, or 201, of the passengers on board are American, and nearly a third, or 119, of the crew are Filipinos, according to lists of passenger and crew nationalities provided by the ship captain to the coast guard.
The passengers are from 25 countries and include 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.
The other crew members include 58 Indians and 50 Indonesians.
The vessel had left Hong Kong on Monday. The ship made a port call in Manila and left for Sandakan on Thursday. It was scheduled to make several stops in Indonesia before arriving in Singapore on April 12.
But instead the stricken ship drifted Saturday in the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometers (70 nautical miles) south of the Philippines' Tubbataha Reef, Ricafrente said. The area lies between the Philippines and the island of Borneo, which is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia.
A woman from Kailua-Kuna, Hawaii, who said she is one of the passengers, posted an entry on Azamara's Facebook page after Internet service was restored on the ship, praising the crew's handling of the situation.
"No A/C yet but everyone is fine," she said. "Cannot say enough about this Captain and the crew. They have been absolutely wonderful keeping us updated constantly with the good or the bad. ... Sorry that we cannot finish our cruise, but we will back ASAP."
She said the crew worked with very little rest "to keep us all in good spirits, well fed and comfortable."
There was a jar where passengers could place donations to help the injured crewman who was in serious condition, she said.
Ricafrente said that no distress call was received and there would be an investigation.
A Philippine coast guard vessel approached the Azamara Quest, but the ship's captain sent an email to the coast guard saying that it needed no assistance and that everything was "under control."
Engineers on Saturday morning restored electricity in the ship to re-establish air conditioning, running water, plumbing, refrigeration and food preparation, the company said.
The ship's senior physician, Oliver Gilles, said that the crew member who was in serious condition 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, 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.