A stricken luxury cruise ship under Philippines and U.S. naval escort will reach a Malaysian port in Borneo island on late Sunday, Malaysian maritime officials and the ship's owner said, after spending more than a day in waters prowled by pirates.
The Azamara Quest, carrying 600 passengers who are mostly westerners and 411 crew, suffered an engine-room fire on Friday that disabled the engines and left the ship temporarily stranded off the southern Philippines coast.
The fire, the latest in a string of cruise ship accidents across the world, was put out on Saturday although five crew members suffered from smoke inhalation with one requiring serious medical attention.
The 11-deck ship was now on its way to Sandakan port at Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo island after engineers restored its propulsion, Miami-based Azamara Club Cruises said in a Facebook posting on Saturday.
The ship is expected to reach Sandakan port by 8.00 pm (1 p.m. British Time), a Malaysian maritime authority official told Reuters.
A U.S. Navy vessel had joined the escort flotilla comprising of several Philippine Navy ships and a coast guard ship, Filipino officials said.
The vessels will follow the cruise ship until it crosses into Malaysian waters where a Malaysian patrol ship will be on hand to escort it to Sandakan port.
The heightened security comes as the waters off the coast of southern Philippines and northern Sabah are key hunting grounds for pirates and the Abu Sayyaf, a deadly Islamic militant group.
The Abu Sayyaf wants an independent Islamic nation in the south of Roman Catholic Philippines, and has been responsible for high profile kidnappings of westerners, including abducting tourists from a nearby Malaysian resort island in 2000.
Azamara Club Cruises - a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd - said engineers onboard the ship had restored power to one of the ship's engines that allows for some air conditioning, running water and refrigeration.
The rest of the cruise, carrying mainly Americans, Australians and Western Europeans, has been cancelled but some of the passengers were still upbeat.
This is our first trip on a cruise holiday and after what has happened you would think we would not want to go again but you are so wrong, said Neil Andrew Kirkpatrick who posted on the Azamara Facebook page on Sunday.
The only discomfort is the heat due to the air-conditioning not working but I can suffer that as I know the engineering department have been working 24/7 to try to get this up and running.
The Azamara Quest was on a 17-night journey and had departed Hong Kong on Monday with port calls to Manila, Balikpapan (Borneo), Palapo (Sulawesi), Benoa Bali, Semarang and Komodo in Indonesia, Malaysia and ending in Singapore.
An official from Borneo Laju, a local agent appointed by Azamara Club Cruises to repair the ship and assist the passengers, said the guests will spend the night on the ship at Sandakan and disembark on Monday.
The Azamara fire was the latest in a string of cruise ship accidents across the world.
Thirty-two people died when the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized off the western coast of Italy in January. A fire on the Costra Allegra left the ship stranded in waters patrolled by pirates in the Indian Ocean for three days in February.
Both ships were run by Costa Crociere, SpA, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise operator.
(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in MANILA, Writing by Niluksi Koswanage; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)