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Stricken cruise ship repaired, heading to Malaysia

FILE - The Maltese registered cruise ship , Azamara Quest, sails through the Suez canal, Egypt, in this April 30, 2010 file photo from the Red sea towards the Mediterranean sea on its way to Athens. The fire on the Azamara Quest started late Friday, March 30, 2012 a day after the ship left Manila for Sandakan, Malaysia, and was immediately put out, said coast guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente. Five crew members were injured. FILE - The Maltese registered cruise ship , Azamara Quest, sails through the Suez canal, Egypt, in this April 30, 2010 file photo from the Red sea towards the Mediterranean sea on its way to Athens. The fire on the Azamara Quest started late Friday, March 30, 2012 a day after the ship left Manila for Sandakan, Malaysia, and was immediately put out, said coast guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente. Five crew members were injured. (AP Photo/File)
By Oliver Teves
The Associated Press / March 31, 2012
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MANILA, Philippines—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 and was expected to reach shore Sunday, the ship's company said.

The Azamara Quest, which 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.

The ship informed the Philippine coast guard late Saturday that its power and propulsion had been restored and that it was moving slowly toward Sandakan, Malaysia, its next destination after it left Manila on Thursday, spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente said.

Azamara Club Cruises, the ship's operator, said in a statement Sunday 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 at 10 p.m. (1400 GMT).

"Unfortunately, the ship has not been able to restore power to the air conditioning compressors. While this is a very difficult undertaking, the onboard team is diligently working to resolve this issue. The guest sentiment onboard continues to be calm and upbeat," the statement said.

It said company president Larry Pimentel would meet personally with the passengers and crew in Sandakan.

The company said the rest of the cruise would be canceled. 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.

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 wrote. "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 that 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 the crew member who was in serious condition had 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.

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