SANDAKAN, Malaysia — A luxury cruise ship stranded at sea for 24 hours because of a fire safely reached a Malaysian port where police and embassy officials stood by Sunday to help 1,000 people aboard, including 45 Canadians.
The Azamara Quest drifted off the southern Philippines after flames engulfed one of its engine rooms Friday, injuring five crew members. It restored propulsion the next night and reached the harbour of Sandakan city in Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah on Borneo island late Sunday.
Two ambulances came out of the port shortly after the ship docked, followed more than two hours later around midnight by a fleet of buses taking passengers to hotels. Inside the buses, several people appeared tired, but many others smiled and one man waved to reporters waiting outside the port.
Consular officials from several countries, including Canada, Britain and the United States, were also present.
“I’m glad I’m safe,” ship passenger Dorothy Irvine, a retired school principal from Toronto, told reporters at a Sandakan hotel. “The Azamara crew kept us informed all the time and went beyond the call of duty. The captain was phenomenal.”
Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said it is aware of reports that a cruise ship carrying Canadians experienced “technical difficulties” and continues to monitor the situation.
“To date, we have no reports of any injuries,” a department spokesman said in an email.
Port officials stopped journalists from approaching the vessel because of what a Malaysian agent for the ship’s operator said was part of the company’s instructions.
“Everything is normal except that it’s very hot there because there is no air conditioning,” New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner Brian Smythe told reporters before the passengers disembarked. “The New Zealanders I spoke to are fine. They were well taken care of.”
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 fire on the Azamara Quest had been extinguished immediately, but five crew members suffered smoke inhalation, including one who was seriously injured and needed hospital care, the ship’s operator has said.
The 11-deck vessel, which features a casino, spa and shopping boutiques, was carrying 590 passengers and 411 crew members. Over one-third, or 201, of the passengers were American, according to lists of passenger and crew nationalities provided by the ship captain to the Philippine Coast Guard.
The passengers from 25 countries also included 98 from Britain, 89 from Australia, 39 from Germany, 32 from Austria, 16 from Belgium, 14 from New Zealand and 14 from Switzerland.
Azamara Club Cruises, the ship’s Miami, Florida-based operator, said in a statement earlier Sunday the ship was sailing at a top speed of only 11 kilometres per hour to reach Sandakan.
“Unfortunately, the ship has not been able to restore power to the air conditioning compressors,” the statement said, adding that “the guest sentiment onboard continues to be calm and upbeat.”
Company president Larry Pimentel is expected to meet with the passengers and crew in Sandakan by today.
Engineers on Saturday morning restored electricity in the ship to re-establish essentials including running water, plumbing, refrigeration and food preparation, the company said.
The company said the rest of the cruise would be cancelled. It said it would fully refund the passengers and provide each guest with a future cruise certificate for the amount paid for the aborted voyage. Azamara Club Cruises is part of Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
The crew includes 119 Filipinos, 58 Indians and 50 Indonesians. The vessel left Hong Kong on Monday for what was supposed to be a 17-day Southeast Asian cruise. It made a port call in Manila and left for Sandakan on Thursday. It had been scheduled to make several stops in Indonesia before arriving in Singapore on April 12.
Instead, it drifted Saturday in the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometres south of the Philippines’ Tubbataha Reef, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Lt.-Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente said. The area lies between the Philippines and the island of Borneo, which is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia.
Ricafrente said no distress call was received and there would be an investigation.
The ship’s senior physician, Oliver Gilles, said the seriously injured crew member had suffered “prolonged heat and smoke exposure.”
A month after 32 people died when the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized off the western coast of Italy in January, a fire on the Costa Allegra left that ship without power and adrift in waters known to be prowled by pirates in the Indian Ocean for three days.
Both Costa ships are part of Costa Crociere, SpA, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator.