A French fishing boat has reached a stricken cruise ship adrift in the Indian Ocean and is towing the vessel to Seychelles' main island, the ship's owner said.
The Italian Costa Allegra, carrying more than 1,000 passengers and crew members, began drifting without power on Monday after a fire in its generator room.
Costa Cruises said on Tuesday that an earlier plan to tow the vessel to the nearest island of Desroches had been aborted because security conditions for mooring the ship and offloading the passengers and crew "would not have been assured".
Two tugs were approaching the cruise ship to assist the Seychelles-based tuna purse-seiner Trevignon pulling the Costa Allegra, which is now due to arrive at the main island Mahe on Thursday morning.
"Helicopters will ensure continuous supply of food, comfort items, flashlights in order to mitigate guests' discomfort given the difficult conditions on board," Costa Cruises spokesman Davide Barbano said in a statement.
Srdjana Janosevic, the Seychelles' presidential spokeswoman, earlier confirmed that the French vessel had reached the ship and that it was towing the Costa Allegra to Desroches.
But an evacuation off Desroches Island would have presented the ship owner and local authorities with a tricky and expensive logistical operation.
The 636 passengers and 413 crew would have had to use the ship's lifeboats to land on the island, and ferries or a fleet of small private planes would most likely then have shuttled the passengers to Mahe.
Seychelles authorities still face a logistical headache finding accommodation in Mahe for all those onboard. "Right now we are in consultation with the hotels on Mahe to find out how many beds are available. It's a busy time of year," Janosevic told Reuters.
Monday's fire aboard the 188-metre Costa Allegra occurred only six weeks after one of its sister ships, the Costa Concordia, hit a reef and capsized off the coast of Italy, killing dozens of people. Both ships are operated by Costa Crociere SpA, which is owned by the Florida-based Carnival Corp.
Officials said the blaze was extinguished without causing any injuries, and that the vessel was stable and upright.
The luxury ship was sailing about 320km southwest of the Seychelles when the fire broke out and it sent a distress signal, the company said.
A spokesman for Costa said the passengers included 130 each from Italy and France, 100 from Austria and 90 from Switzerland.
Cosimo Nicastro, a spokesman for the Italian coastguard, speaking to Al Jazeera, said the ship had no electricity or air conditioning.
Captain Giorgio Moretti said on Monday night from company headquarters in Genoa that the fire in the ship's generator room had left it without power.
The officials, who were in regular contact with the Allegra's crew members, said emergency generators were keeping the ship's command room illuminated and instruments such as its radio functioning. But the rest of the ship apparently was dark as night fell, with passengers gathering in the ship's communal areas, rather than retiring to their cabins.
The 28,597-tonne Costa Allegra left northern Madagascar, off Africa's southeast coast, on Saturday and was cruising towards Victoria. Costa said the Allegra had been due in Victoria on Tuesday.
The much larger Costa Concordia capsized on January 13 after hitting rocks off the island of Giglio. Divers and rescue workers are still searching for the bodies of seven people who remain missing.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|