VICTORIA Passengers faced a third day without power and hot food on a stricken Costa cruise ship in the sweltering Indian Ocean on Wednesday, as helicopters airlifted fresh bread to the liner under tow.
An engine room fire on the Costa Allegra, which is owned by the company whose giant liner smashed into rocks off Italy last month, knocked out the ship's main power supply on Monday, disabling the engines in waters prowled by pirates.
Costa Cruises said the cruise liner was due to arrive at the Seychelles capital of Victoria around 9:00 a.m.(5 a.m. British time) on Thursday.
The Trevignon, a French deep sea tuna trawler dwarfed by the liner, is pulling the Costa Allegra along at a speed of six knots.
"Efforts were made to add a tug (to help tow) but it didn't work," George Adeline, the commander of the Seychelles' coastguard, told Reuters. A military aircraft is also flying in support of the operation.
A team from Costa Cruises, a unit of the U.S. cruise line giant Carnival Corp., is expected to board the Coast Allegra on Wednesday to make arrangements for hotel accommodation and onward flights for the 636 passengers and 413 crew once they make land on Seychelles main island, Mahe.
Over 600 airline seats and 400 hundred rooms had been reserved, the cruise company said on Wednesday.
A small generator had been transferred onto the crippled vessel, but was only powerful enough to run its auxiliary communication system, not the air conditioning or cooking systems, Adeline said.
"The ship crew is doing everything possible to make the situation on board more comfortable trying to restore basics services on board," Costa Cruises said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
With no lights working onboard, the company said it had dropped hundreds of torches onto the ship to help at night.
"The speed of the ship, despite the hot and humid climate, creates a slight breeze that helps making the situation more comfortable."
The passengers, including four children, are from 25 different nations, with the largest contingents being 127 from France and 126 from Italy. There are also 38 Germans, 31 Britons, 13 Canadians and eight Americans on board.
The Costa Allegra left Diego Suarez in Madagascar on Saturday and, sailing northeast, had been due to dock in Mahe on Tuesday.
The Costa Allegra, at 29,000 tonnes, is several times smaller than the huge Costa Concordia which capsized off the Italian island of Giglio, killing at least 25 people. Divers and rescue workers are searching for the bodies of seven still missing more than six weeks after the January 13 disaster.
A criminal investigation has been launched, with the cruise liner captain, Francesco Schettino, accused of manslaughter and abandoning the Costa Concordia before all the 4,200 passengers and crew had been evacuated.
(Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by James Macharia and Alessandra Rizzo)