Disabled cruise ship gets phones, food via helicopter

Helicopters ferried food and flashlights to more than 1,000 people, including at least 13 Canadians, stuck aboard a disabled cruise ship that is being towed to the Seychelles Islands through waters prowled by pirates, officials say.

13 Canadians among 1,000 people aboard ship being towed by French fishing vessel

The Costa Allegra cruise ship is owned by the Italian company Costa Crociere. (Tano Pecoraro/Associated Press)

Helicopters ferried food and flashlights to more than 1,000 people, including at least 13 Canadians, 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 ship 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 helicopters also took telephones, because the electrical outage disabled the ship's non-emergency phones.

The Costa Allegra has 636 passengers and 413 crew members on board. Four of the passengers are children three years old or younger.

Friends and relatives seeking information on Canadian citizens believed to have been aboard the Costa Allegra should contact the Department of Foreign Affairs' Emergency Operations Centre by calling 1-800-387-3124, or emailing sos@international.gc.ca.

While Costa Cruises has said 13 Canadians are aboard the ship, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa told CBC News "there are approximately 14 Canadians onboard, including one crew member," and it has received no reports of any injuries.

The release said the department "is aware of reports alleging technical difficulties experienced by a cruise ship sailing in the Indian Ocean," and that Canadians officials are monitoring the "situation closely."

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.

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Cruise ship officials had said that they would be taking the stranded travellers 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.

Allegra fire follows deadly Concordia capsizing

The fire aboard the Costa Allegra comes only six weeks after the Costa Concordia, another cruise ship owned by the same company, 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.

Nationalities of guests on board

Italian: 135

French: 127

Austrian: 97

Swiss: 90

German: 38

British: 31

Mauritian: 15

Russian: 15

Spanish: 15

Canadian: 13

Belgian: 13

Slovenian: 12

American: 8

Others: 27

Source: Costa Cruises

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 Italian cruise ship the Costa Allegra, left, is towed by another French fishing vessel, the Trevignon, in the Indian Ocean, on Tuesday. (Le Talenduic, Reunion Island Prefecture/AP)

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.

With files from CBC News