After losing power following a fire on Monday, the Costa Allegra cruise ship is being towed to safety.
In the middle of the night, the Allegra was reached by a French tuna fishing ship called the Travignon. By Tuesday morning, the Travignon had begun towing the Allegra toward Desroches, one of the Seychelles' Outer Islands.
Meanwhile, Costa contacted the family members of the 627 passengers on board. About half of the passengers are from either France or Italy, and a total of 25 nationalities are represented on the Allegra, excluding the 413 crew members.
There are eight American tourists on the ship.
By Tuesday afternoon, local time, the passengers were packing their bags, eating food that had been brought in by helicopter and preparing for their final night at sea. However, authorities soon determined that landing at Desroches was too risky and the Allegra has been rerouted to Mahé, about 200 miles from where the ship is now.
The disembarkation at Desroches cannot be assured with adequate security conditions for mooring the ship and guest disembarkation, Costa said.
In addition, logistics and hotels on the island are not sufficient. Disembarkation at Desroches would require an immediate transfer from Desroches to Mahe via ferries after disembarking the ship via tenders.
There is only one hotel on Descroches, and it's much too small to accommodate the 1,000 people on board the Allegra. The hotel has around 40 rooms and villas, ranging from $800 to $12,000 per night.
The trip to Mahé, the main island of the Seychelles, will take another two to three days. Costa is estimating that barring any further incidents, the Allegra can reach Mahé by 6 a.m. on Thursday.
The ship will remain without power for the remainder of the journey, but helicopters following the vessel will provide a continuous supply of food, as well as flashlights and the emergency supplies needed to mitigate guests' discomfort given the difficult conditions on board.
The Allegra regularly makes trips in the Indian Ocean and throughout Asia. The cruise left Madagascar on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive on Mahé on Tuesday, but a small fire in the electric generator room on Monday night caused the ship to completely lose power.
The shipboard fire-extinguishing system and procedures were promptly activated and the special fire-fighting squads intervened to extinguish the fire, the company said in a statement.
Without running engines, the Allegra began drifting in the ocean about 250 miles from the Seychelles' main islands and 500 miles from the nearest port in Madagascar.
As has been pointed out, the area where the ship is adrift is a known pirate zone. Somali pirates attacked an Italian cruise ship in the Indian Ocean in 2009, but were successfully fought off.
The Allegra is being followed by Seychelles Navy boats and helicopters, and armed crew members on board will be able to respond to any threat. So far, no pirates have been spotted.
The Costa Crociere company, which owns and operates the Allegra, is the same cruise line that ran the ill-fated Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the coast of Italy in January.
Despite the common ownership, the events before and after the two ships' accidents were very different.
The sinking of the Concordia has been widely blamed on the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, who made an unauthorized change of course in order to salute the parents of a crew member who lived on Giglio.
Because Captain Schettino was either distracted or acting on his own, immediately after the accident none of the proper emergency protocol was followed after the Concordia ran aground. No one was leading the ship or the evacuation process; the passengers were not informed of the disaster; the ship quickly sank as officers and passengers fled the boat together.
At least 25 people died as a result of the mismanagement on the Concordia, and bodies are still being pulled out from the wreckage.
The cause of the fire on the Allegra is unknown, but the captain's response was by the book. A distress signal was sent out immediately and the passengers were alerted as soon as the fire was put out. The crew has been in constant contact with passengers and authorities, and while the first rescue boats arrived hours after the Allegra was set adrift, the coordinated rescue effort should assure that passengers arrive in Mahé safely.
They (the passengers) are not necessarily comfortable because the ship only has emergency power on board, but they are safe, Italian Coast Guard Commander Cosimo Nicastro told reporters.