The crippled cruise ship Costa Allegra has arrived in a Seychelles port Thursday after three days at sea with 1,000 people aboard and no power, toilets or showers. NBC's Duncan Golestani reports.
Updated at 10:30 a.m. ET: VICTORIA, Seychelles -- Tired passengers left a crippled Costa cruise ship in the Seychelles capital Victoria on Thursday, ending a three-day ordeal in the Indian Ocean after a fire knocked out the vessel's main power supply.
The Costa Allegra suffered an engine-room fire on Monday which disabled its engines in waters prowled by pirates.
The ship is owned by the company whose giant liner Costa Concordia smashed into rocks off Italy and capsized last month, killing at least 25 people.
The passengers said they had prepared to abandon ship when fire broke out in the engine room three days ago, leaving the vessel adrift in waters prowled by pirates.
But the fire that broke out Monday was brought under control and the more than 1,000 people wound up staying aboard the Costa Allegra, which suddenly had no engine power, no air conditioning, no lights and no running water for showers or toilets.
A French tuna fishing boat towed the Costa Allegra for three days toward the port in Victoria, where a line of ambulances, a Red Cross medical team and a fleet of small buses was waiting.
Passengers lined the railings and a few began to clap as the vessel drew close to the crowded dock Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, a team from Costa Cruises, a unit of the U.S. cruise line giant Carnival Corp., boarded the Costa Allegra to make arrangements for hotel accommodation and onward flights for the 636 passengers and 413 crew once they landed.
The Costa Allegra has been adrift in the Indian Ocean since Monday when an engine room fire knocked out the main power supply. A small French trawler is towing the cruise ship to the Seychelles and armed guards are on board to protect it from Somali pirates.
More than 600 airline seats and 400 rooms had been reserved, the cruise company said.
Costa Cruises said 376 passengers out of 627 had accepted its offer to continue their holiday in the Seychelles, where a carnival kicks off on Friday, at the firm's expense. The other passengers will fly home.
As passengers disembarked Thursday they described what happened when the fire broke out and life boats were lowered.
Austrian Thomas Foaller said some passengers began to panic. Couples that were separated were calling out to each other, he said.
Among them were American couple Gordon and Eleanor Bradwell of Athens, Ga. They were separated when Eleanor went to the couple's room to get a life vest. A crew member had handed the 72-year-old Gordon his own as dark smoke rose from the ship.
"Those were the worst moments," said Gordon.
Eleanor Bradwell said that the initial response to the alarm seemed to be disorganized but overall she and her husband felt the shipping line had handled the emergency well.
"It could have been worse than it was," said Gordon Bradwell. "It could have been disastrous ... we're here, we're alive."
The couple ate cold sandwiches for three days and moved their bedding onto the deck to escape the stifling heat after the fire left the Costa Allegra without power.
"The toilets were running over, there was no electricity. It was very hot," said Eleanor.
The couple said they realized the alarm must be real when it went off on Monday because they had already done the drill. When the fire first broke out, passengers were directed to put on their life jackets and go to stations on the deck, they said. Life boats were lowered but no one got in after the fire was contained.
Foaller, the Austrian, said after the fire was contained the situation was fairly calm, if not comfortable.
"It was not dramatic. It was quiet. After (the fire was out) it was just boring," he said.
On Thursday dozens of officials and travel agents flocked to the port, waiting to help passengers ashore.
"The focus of the operation is to get them a warm meal and a shower," said Guillaume Albert, head of Creole Travel Service. "I think the happy ending is the people coming off the boat."
A Seychelles official suggested on Wednesday that the journey may also have taken longer because the French fishing vessel towing the cruise ship had refused to give way to two faster tugs sent by the Seychelles. Although assistance to people at sea is free, assistance to ships is often paid.
On Thursday, Lt. Col. Michael Rosette, the deputy chief of staff of the military, said the tug boats were more appropriate than the fishing vessel but that the decision not to switch towing vessels was up to the cruise line company.
The Seychelles Red Cross set up tents to assist any passengers needing medical help and embassy and consular officials were at the port to receive their citizens. Tour operators lined up dozens of buses to take passengers to either the airport or a Seychelles resort. Disembarkation of the more than 1,000 people on board was expected to take several hours.
The average age of passengers is 55 years, he said.
The fire came only six weeks after the Costa Concordia, 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.
During a hearing held Wednesday in Washington, D.C., the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee reviewed U.S. cruise ship safety regulations as well as international safety standards and heard testimony from Costa Concordia cruise ship survivors. NBC's Tom Costello reports.
The Allegra, whose Italian name means "merry," or "happy," left northern Madagascar, off Africa's southeast coast, on Saturday and was cruising toward Port Victoria when the fire erupted. The liner was carrying 413 crew members and 627 passengers, including 212 Italians, 31 Britons and eight Americans.
Tourism in the tiny island nation of the Seychelles almost stopped completely in 2009 because of the threat of pirate attacks. There were no reports of pirates approaching the stricken Costa Allegra or even being seen.
The Seychelles is a chain of white-sand resort islands that attracts celebrities and royalty. Its population is just 87,000, and it is heavily dependent on fishing and tourism.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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