Cruise ship drifting after fire off Philippines

By Oliver Teves, AP

MANILA, Philippines–A fire in the engine room crippled a luxury cruise liner with 1,000 people aboard, leaving it adrift far from shore in waters south of the Philippines, officials said Saturday. Five crew members were injured before the fire was put out, one of them seriously in need of hospital care. No one among the 590 passengers was hurt, the ship’s company said, and the ship’s captain reported that the situation was under control. A tugboat and Philippine navy and coast guard vessels were headed to the stricken Azamara Quest as the crew tried to repair the engines. The rescue boats were expected to arrive in the evening, but it was unclear when the tugboat would arrive. The stricken ship was drifting in the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometers (70 nautical miles) south of the Philippines’ Tubbataha Reef, Philippine coast guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente said. The Sulu Sea lies between the Philippines and the island of Borneo, which is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia. 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 has 411 crew members. Operator Azamara Club Cruises is part of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. The vessel left Hong Kong on Monday for what was supposed to be a 17-day Southeast Asian cruise. The ship made port call in Manila and left for Sandakan, Malaysia, Thursday and was scheduled to make several stops in Indonesia, before arriving in Singapore on April 12. The cruise ship left Manila on Thursday and was at sea when the fire broke out Friday night. The flames engulfed one of the ship’s engine rooms but were quickly extinguished, Azamara Club Cruises said in a statement. Five crew suffered smoke inhalation, including one who was seriously injured and needed hospital care. Ricafrente said that the ship was in contact via email. The ship’s captain, Leif Karlsson, emailed the coast guard, saying that assistance was no longer necessary as a tugboat was on its way, he said. “The situation (is) under control and we are in the (process) to restore the power and propulsion to continue our voyage to Sandakan” in Malaysia, Karlsson said in one of several emails seen by The Associated Press. The ship’s senior physician, Oliver Gilles, said that the crew member who was in serious condition suffered from “prolonged heat and smoke exposure” but no burns and was “unstable”.