Hot and tired passengers disembarking from a disabled cruise ship on Thursday in the Seychelles said they had prepared to abandon ship when fire broke out in the engine room three days ago, causing smoke to billow from the vessel that was suddenly adrift in waters prowled by pirates.
Life boats were lowered, said passengers. Austrian Thomas Foaller said some passengers began to panic. Couples that were separated were calling out to each other, he said.
But the fire that broke out Monday was brought under control and the more than 1,000 passengers and crew wound up staying aboard the Costa Allegra, which suddenly had no engine power, no air conditioning and no running water for showers or toilets.
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.
The crew of the Costa Allegra formed up and clapped as passengers disembarked and were hustled to buses for onward travel. A dozen crew members lined up at two pay phones to call their families. One crew member used a reporters' phone to call India and check on his eight-year-old daughter.
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.
“The Allegra, whose Italian name means “merry,” or “happy,” left northern Madagascar, off Africa's southeast coast, on Saturday. The liner was carrying 413 crew members and 627 passengers, including 212 Italians, 31 Britons and eight Americans.
About 375 people are taking advantage of the company's offer of a free 15-day vacation in the Seychelles.