Update: Costa Allegra Passengers Debark Ship, Speak About Conditions

March 2, 2012

(1 p.m. EST) -- After three days without lights, air-conditioning and working toilets, Costa Allegra passengers debarked mid-day Thursday in Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles' island of Mahe. The ship required a tow after an engine room fire left it powerless and adrift in the Indian Ocean on Monday.

Passengers described onboard conditions as stifling, and most slept on the top deck to avoid the extreme heat below. "We were very hot and the sewage was very poor," Eleanor Bradwell of Athens, Georgia, one of eight Americans onboard, told ABC News. "We are just elated to be off the ship."

Another passenger, from the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, told Reuters he "felt tired and dirty and had been afraid of pirates, but there was never any shortage of drinking water or sandwiches."

Costa said it took some two hours to debark the 627 passengers -- including 127 French, 126 Italians, 31 Britons and 8 Americans -- who were met in Victoria by ambulances, a Red Cross medical team, dozens of buses, and consular and embassy officials. Reuters said that one woman was rushed into an ambulance and another had to be supported as she walked off the ship.

Allegra's captain, Niccolo Alba, confirmed that two people were injured after falling in the dark, but he denied an earlier allegation from a Seychelles health ministry official that six people had broken limbs.

The fire, which broke out Monday in the ship's electric generator room, was stopped before it could spread to any other area of the ship. "The general emergency alarm was promptly declared, and passengers and crewmembers not managing the emergency went to the muster stations," Costa said. According to an Associated Press report, life boats were lowered and some passengers began to panic before Costa crew brought the situation under control. Despite some initial disorganization, passengers quoted by the AP felt the line handled the emergency well.

Not all passengers agree. A report in the Daily Telegraph quoted a number of passengers who expressed anger and disgust at Costa's handling of the incident. Dry sandwiches and overflowing lavatories topped the list of complaints, but reports of an hours-long roll call when the fire broke out, as well as a general lack of organization and poor treatment of passengers on the part of the ship's crew also surfaced.

In an e-mail, Costa said it is offering a multi-pronged compensation package to impacted passengers.

First, passengers were offered the choice of a one- or two-week stay in the Seychelles, including flights home, or immediate flights to Europe (the ship's intended final destination).

The line says that 481 passengers took them up on either the one- or two-week offer. The balance elected to return home via flights organized by Costa from Seychelles International airport to Paris, Milan via Rome, and to Zurich via Vienna. Passengers who decided to fly home received a voucher for the same value as the unfinished Allegra cruise. They can apply the voucher to any Costa cruise departing in the next 24 months.

Second, all passengers will receive a refund of the fare paid for the cruise, associated travel expenses and onboard expenses incurred during the cruise. The line is also offering an indemnity equivalent to the amount of the fare paid for the cruise and associated travel costs.

Costa Allegra left Madagascar on Saturday and was steaming for the Seychelles, where it was scheduled to arrive Tuesday, February 28.

--by Jamey Bergman, UK Web Content Producer and Dan Askin, News Editor