VICTORIA Tired passengers left the crippled cruise ship Costa Allegra 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.
More than half the 636 passengers took up the offer of a seven or 14-day holiday on the archipelago from the ship's owner Costa Cruises, the same company whose giant liner Costa Concordia smashed into rocks off Italy in January.
One of the Costa Allegra's three diesel generators caught fire on Monday and although the blaze was extinguished within an hour two more generators in the engine room then failed, the ship's captain, Niccolo Alba, told a news conference.
Alba said a general emergency was declared when the generator caught fire, the lifeboats were prepared and passengers were ready to abandon ship as the liner drifted in the Indian Ocean, where Somali pirates roam.
A passenger from Germany, who declined to be named, said that when the power cut out the passengers had been ready to leap into the lifeboats, before they realised there was no major danger.
"Nothing was working so we realised this was not minor damage," he said. "The crew were great. They tried the best they could to make us comfortable."
The passengers were left in the dark, with no air conditioning, showers or hot food, though supplies were dropped by helicopter as the stricken cruise liner was towed to Victoria by a French tuna-fishing boat.
A passenger from the Indian Ocean island of Reunion said he felt tired and dirty and had been afraid of pirate attacks, but there was never any shortage of drinking water or cold food.
Alba said two people had fallen in the dark and hurt themselves, but he denied an earlier report from a Seychelles health ministry official that six people had broken limbs.
"I WANT TO GO HOME"
A small generator was installed in the crippled vessel, but was only powerful enough to run its auxiliary communication system, not the air conditioning or cooking systems.
With no lights working on board, the company said it had dropped hundreds of torches onto the ship to help passengers find their way around at night.
A team from Costa Cruises, a unit of the U.S. cruise line giant Carnival Corp. (CCL.L) (CCL.N), boarded the Costa Allegra on Wednesday to arrange hotel accommodation and onward flights for the passengers. It said more than 600 airline seats and 400 rooms had been reserved.
Norbert Stiekema, executive vice-president at Costa Cruises, told the news conference that all passengers were offered the option of a holiday or a flight home, and that all outstanding bills on the ship had been cancelled.
The passengers were met in Victoria by ambulances, a Red Cross medical team and a fleet of small buses to take them to hotels on the country's main island of Mahe.
One woman was rushed into an ambulance and another had to be supported as she walked off the ship.
The passengers, including four children, are from 25 nations. The largest contingents are 127 from France and 126 from Italy. There were also 38 Germans, 31 Britons, 13 Canadians and eight Americans.
The Costa Allegra left Diego Suarez in Madagascar on Saturday and, sailing northeast, had been due to dock in Mahe on Tuesday.
At 29,000 gross tonnes, the ship is considerably smaller than the huge Costa Concordia which capsized off Italy, killing at least 25 people.
Costa Cruises said 376 passengers had accepted its offer to continue their holiday in the Seychelles, where a carnival kicks off on Friday, at the firm's expense. But others had had enough.
"I am no longer in the mood for a holiday. I want to go home as soon as I can," said another passenger.