Change Of Course For Stricken Costa Cruise Ship

Passengers on a stricken cruise ship owned by the same company as the Costa Concordia are spending another night on board without power.

The Costa Allegra is being towed by a French fishing boat to Mahe, the main island in the Seychelles.

A fire in the engine room disabled the vessel's main power supply, leaving the ship adrift with just over 1,000 people on board in notorious pirate waters in the Indian Ocean.

Costa Cruises said an earlier plan to tow the vessel to the nearby island of Desroches had been abandoned because of "safety and security issues".

Instead it would "proceed" to the Seychelles' capital Victoria where, all being well, it would arrive on Thursday morning.

In a statement, the company said it had carried out "extensive and accurate checks" with local maritime experts and concluded it would not be safe for the Allegra's passengers to disembark at Desroches.

"The disembarkation in Desroches does not assure the necessary and adequate security conditions for mooring the ship and guests' disembarkation," the statement said.

"In addition, logistics and hotels on the island are not enough: it would require an immediate transfer from Desroches to Mahe through ferries after disembarking the ship through tenders.

"Thus the ship will be towed to Mahe also with the assistance of two tugs that are approaching the ship and that would allow an increase in speed."

The statement added that helicopters would supply fresh food, batteries and other items in "order to mitigate guests' discomfort given the difficult conditions on board".

Because of the power failure, the ship's fridges are no longer working and provisions have begun to rot and defrost.

Costa Cruises said it was doing everything possible to minimise its guests' discomfort and was "sincerely sorry" for the inconvenience caused.

Earlier, the Italian coastguard has said all passengers and crew on the Costa Allegra were safe.

Two tugboats are expected to reach the liner to help take it to Mahe.

Somali pirates are active in the region but have not been sighted near the 28,597-ton ship, which has a group of armed marines on board.

There are 636 passengers on the Costa Allegra, 31 Britons and one Irish person, along with 413 crew members.

They include a dancer from Sutton Coldfield, Rebecca Thomas, whose brother James was working on the Costa Concordia when it ran aground in January.

Costa Cruises said the fire had started near the electrical generators and was quickly brought under control. No one was hurt.

"The shipboard fire-extinguishing system and procedures were promptly activated and the special firefighting units intervened to extinguish (the) fire," the statement said.

"The fire did not spread to any other area of the ship. There were no injuries or casualties."

Costa said a general emergency alarm was "promptly sounded" as a precaution, and all passengers and crew not involved in the emergency reached muster stations.

It did not say what had caused the fire.

The Allegra was about 20 miles from Alphonse Island, one of the many atolls in the Seychelles, a popular tourist destination, when the incident happened.

Captain Giorgio Moretti said the air conditioning and lights had been knocked out when the power went, but emergency generators kept the command room lit and instruments such as its radio functioning.

The rest of the ship was plunged into darkness, however, and passengers were being kept in the large communal rooms rather than their cabins as night fell. There were reports of some sleeping on deck.

Seychelles presidential spokeswoman Srdjana Janosevic said: "If pirates attack, the armed guards on board will respond. But as far as I am aware, no pirates have been sighted in the area."

The Allegra's captain is Nicolo Alba. He is a 48-year-old who has been at sea for 20 years.

The Allegra left northern Madagascar on Saturday and was heading towards Mahe when the fire broke out.

Built in Genoa in Italy in 1992, the vessel has eight passenger decks and can carry a maximum of 1,400 people, including crew.

The Costa cruise line was plunged into controversy after another of its ships, the Costa Concordia , ran aground off the Italian island of Giglio on January 13.

Twenty-five people are known to have died in the tragedy and seven others are missing presumed dead. More than 4,200 passengers and crew were evacuated.

It apparently happened as the captain was allegedly performing a "salute" to the Tuscan island's residents.