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Disabled cruise ship reaches Seychelles

From Dan Rivers, CNN
updated 4:56 PM EST, Thu March 1, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The operation was handled quickly, the cruise line's executive VP says
  • Part of the offered compensation package is an "indemnity" payment
  • Ship officials can't explain the cause of the fire or the generator failing
  • One passenger says the ship was a "floating death trap" because conditions could have worsened

Port Victoria, Seychelles (CNN) -- A disabled Italian cruise ship, the Costa Allegra, reached port Thursday after several harrowing days at sea.

After about two hours, all the approximately 1,000 people on board were off safely, and "no critical situations" were found, the cruise line said.

The Allegra lost power in the Indian Ocean on Monday and was adrift off the coast of the Seychelles because of a fire in the engine room.

It is part of the same fleet as the Costa Concordia, the cruise liner that wrecked off the coast of Italy on January 13, killing at least 21 people.

"If you look at the speed of the operation, the support we gave out of Genoa, and how the crew handled the whole situation, I think we can only be very, very proud," Costa Executive Vice President Norbert Stiekema told CNN.

Two people were injured on the Allegra, officials with the cruise line said. Two Russian guests fell on board. One injured a shoulder, the other a leg, officials said. Some are sunburned from having to sit on the deck for three days, but overall, guests were fine, officials said.

"It was extremely black smoke so we knew what was going to happen," passenger Mari-Anne Thon said, recalling her alarm when the fire broke out.

She choked up briefly before continuing.

Couple recalls cruise ship escape
Costa Allegra towed to port
Costa Allegra passengers on dry land
Crippled ship being towed to land

"So they sounded the alarm, and we went out to our room to get our life jackets and then we went up to the muster station. We all were standing there quite a while," she said, safely back on land after the ship docked in the Seychelles.

The ship carried 636 passengers and a crew of 413, according to Costa Cruises. Most of the passengers were from Europe, but eight were from the United States and 13 were from Canada.

At a news conference Thursday, Stiekema said customers are offered a compensation package.

The offer includes full reimbursement for the cruise and flights and spending on board, and a week or two weeks vacation in the Seychelles with expenses covered. Passengers who do not want to continue their vacations now can accept vouchers for free travel on any Costa ship in the next two years.

The offer also includes another payment, equivalent to the fare paid for the cruise and associated travel costs. In a news release, the company described that as an "indemnity" -- a term that suggests someone accepting it would give up the possibility of suing

In an interview with CNN, Stiekema described the offer as "very, very generous." Passengers who do not see it as generous can sue, he said.

About 70% of the passengers have decided to accept Costa's offer, the company said. They were brought to hotels to begin their vacations.

The other 30% will leave Thursday evening on flights organized by Costa, the company said.

Some passengers, who spoke to CNN before the compensation offer was announced, described a harrowing experience on board.

David Tinson called the ship a "floating death trap" because conditions could have worsened.

Fellow passenger Gordon Bradwell said, "It could have been disastrous, yes, no doubt about it."

But he said the crew calmed the passengers.

"That concern lasted for an hour or two, and then it abated because we were assured that everything was going to be OK. And it was," Bradwell said.

The ship departed from Diego Suarez, Madagascar, on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive in the Seychelles on Tuesday.

Neither Stiekema nor the captain, Niccolo Alba, could explain the cause of the fire, nor why an emergency generator located in a different part of the ship failed after several hours.

With power out, people on board had to use mineral water for washing, Costa said.

They had a supply of cold food that included fruit, cheese and cold cuts, while fresh bread was flown regularly to the ship by helicopter, the company said.

A large French fishing ship began towing the liner to port on Tuesday.

A Seychelles Coast Guard ship reached the Costa Allegra later in the day, along with two tugboats from the Seychelles Ports Authority, said Seychelles presidential spokeswoman Srdjana Janosevic.

The ship was towed to Port Victoria, the Seychelles capital.

The impact the incident could have on Costa's business is hard to predict. After the Concordia disaster, the company had a 35% drop in bookings, Stiekema said.

CNN's Josh Levs contributed to this report.

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