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Stricken cruise ship to reach Malaysia port Sunday

FILE - The Maltese registered cruise ship , Azamara Quest, sails through the Suez canal, Egypt, in this April 30, 2010 file photo from the Red sea towards the Mediterranean sea on its way to Athens. The fire on the Azamara Quest started late Friday, March
FILE - The Maltese registered cruise ship , Azamara Quest, sails through the Suez canal, Egypt, in this April 30, 2010 file photo from the Red sea towards the Mediterranean sea on its way to Athens. The fire on the Azamara Quest started late Friday, March 30, 2012 a day after the ship left Manila for Sandakan, Malaysia, and was immediately put out, said coast guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente. Five crew members were injured.
File, Associated Press

SANDAKAN, Malaysia — A luxury cruise ship stranded at sea for 24 hours by a fire was limping toward a Malaysian port Sunday, as emergency services and embassy officials prepared to help the 1,000 people on board.

The Azamara Quest was adrift in waters off the southern Philippines for a full day after flames engulfed one of its engine rooms Friday night, injuring five crew members. It restored propulsion the next night and is expected to reach the harbor of Sandakan city in Malaysia's eastern state of Sabah on Borneo island late Sunday.

It was the latest in a series of accidents hitting luxury cruise liners since January, when the Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people.

Sandakan authorities may have ambulances on standby, even though they have not received requests for assistance, said city police official Rudy Wiliding.

Five crew members suffered smoke inhalation, including one who was seriously injured and needed hospital care, the ship's operator has said.

The vessel is carrying 590 passengers and 411 crew members. Over one-third, or 201, of the passengers are American, according to lists of passenger and crew nationalities provided by the ship captain to the Philippine coast guard.

The passengers from 25 countries also include 98 from Britain, 89 from Australia, 45 from Canada, 39 from Germany, 32 from Austria, 16 from Belgium, 14 from New Zealand and 14 from Switzerland.

Harvey Sernovitz, the U.S. Embassy's spokesman in Malaysia, said a consular team plans to be at the Sandakan port to assist American citizens. The British Embassy's website carried a Foreign Office statement saying it will also send a team.

First Adm. M. Karunanithi, the Malaysian coast guard's chief in Sabah state, told The Star newspaper that a patrol boat would escort the Azamara Quest to Sandakan. The coast guard was informed there was no need to airlift the injured crew members who suffered smoke inhalation, The Star quoted Karunanithi as saying on its website.

Azamara Club Cruises, the ship's Miami, Florida-based operator, said in a statement Sunday that the ship was sailing at a top speed of only 6 knots (11 kilometers or 6.9 miles per hour) and was expected to reach Sandakan at 10 p.m. (1400 GMT).

"Unfortunately, the ship has not been able to restore power to the air conditioning compressors. While this is a very difficult undertaking, the onboard team is diligently working to resolve this issue. The guest sentiment onboard continues to be calm and upbeat," the statement said.

It said company president Larry Pimentel would meet with the passengers and crew in Sandakan.

Engineers on Saturday morning restored electricity in the ship to re-establish essentials including running water, plumbing, refrigeration and food preparation, the company said.

The company said the rest of the cruise would be canceled. It said it would fully refund the passengers and provide each guest with a future cruise certificate for the amount paid for the aborted voyage. Azamara Club Cruises is part of Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

The crew includes 119 Filipinos, 58 Indians and 50 Indonesians. The stricken ship had been scheduled to make several stops in Indonesia before arriving in Singapore on April 12.

But instead, it drifted Saturday in the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometers (70 nautical miles) south of the Philippines' Tubbataha Reef, Philippine coast guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente said. The area lies between the Philippines and the island of Borneo, which is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Ricafrente said no distress call was received and there would be an investigation.

The ship's senior physician, Oliver Gilles, said the crew member had suffered "prolonged heat and smoke exposure."

A month after 32 people died when the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized off the western coast of Italy in January, a fire on the Costra Allegra left that ship without power and adrift in waters known to be prowled by pirates in the Indian Ocean for three days.

Both Costa ships are part of Costa Crociere, SpA, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise operator.


Associated Press writers Sean Yoong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Oliver Teves in Manila contributed to this report.