Stranded cruise ship heads to Malaysia

A luxury cruise ship carrying 600 mostly American and European tourists that had been adrift in Philippine waters was late Saturday heading for Malaysia and expected to arrive within 48 hours.

A blaze late Friday in an engine room injured five crew, one seriously, and had left the Azamara Quest drifting in the Sulu Sea, dealing a further blow to an industry that was already reeling from two incidents in as many months.

But the United States-based Azamara Club Cruises declared in a statement on its website late Saturday: "Engineers onboard Azamara Quest have been able to restore propulsion to the ship.

"Azamara Quest is currently sailing directly to Sandakan (in Sabah), Malaysia at between three to six knots. Based on this speed, the ship is expected to arrive in Sandakan within 24 to 48 hours."

Refurbished in 2007, the upmarket vessel was carrying 590 mostly American and European passengers and 411 crew members, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Algier Ricafrente told AFP.

The 180-metre (592-foot) vessel boasts spas, gyms, swimming pools, a casino and eight restaurants, as well as an acupuncture service.

It was stranded about 200 miles (320 kms) off the coast of Balikpapan, on the Indonesian section of Borneo, the operator said, adding that although the ship was moving again, the rest of the Azamara Quest's voyage was over.

"Unfortunately, five crew members onboard the ship suffered smoke inhalation during the fire. The crew members are being treated in our medical facility," the website statement said.

"The condition of the one crew member that was more severely injured has improved, but is still serious.

"The damage caused by the fire will require us to cancel the rest of Azamara Quest's voyage once the ship arrives in Sandakan."

Azamara Club Cruises said Larry Pimentel, its president and chief executive, would be flying to Sandakan to meet passengers and crew personally. He was due to arrive on Monday morning.

No passengers were hurt on the Azamara Quest, but its day-long drift heaps more unwanted publicity on the cruise industry.

In January, the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia ran aground off Tuscany, killing 32 people after it keeled over.

A month later a fire struck the Costa Concordia's sister ship Costa Allegra in the Indian Ocean. The vessel, which was carrying more than 1,000 people, had to be towed to shore by a French fishing boat.

The Malta-flagged Azamara, described on its website as a 30,277-tonne vessel, left Hong Kong on Monday for a 17-night dream voyage. It left Manila, its first stop, on Wednesday, and had been on its way to Borneo.

It was supposed to take in islands of the Indonesian archipelago, including the popular holiday spot Bali, before terminating in Singapore.

The nationalities of the injured crew members was not disclosed, although the Philippine transportation department said it was aware about 120 of the crew are Filipinos.

The Florida-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, the world's second-largest cruise company, operates Azamara Club Cruises and said it had dispatched a salvage vessel to tow the ship, if necessary.

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