By JASON STRAZIUSO and VICTOR L. SIMPSON
NAIROBI, Kenya — Helicopters ferried food, phones and flashlights Tuesday to more than 1,000 passengers and crew stuck aboard a disabled cruise ship that was being towed to the Seychelles Islands through waters prowled by pirates.
Still, those aboard the Costa Allegra, a sister ship of the cruise liner that capsized off Italy last month, faced more long, stifling nights before the vessel docks in the tropical paradise.
The stricken liner was expected to reach the main Seychelles island of Mahe on Thursday, the Italian cruise operator said.
“The speed of the ship, despite the hot and humid climate, creates a slight breeze that helps make the situation more comfortable,” a company statement said. It said fresh bread would be brought in Wednesday since cooking was impossible, but added there was “no lack of food and other comfort items.”
Fire erupted Monday in the ship’s generator room, knocking out power to its engines, lights and air conditioning. The blaze came just six weeks after the Costa Concordia hit a reef and capsized off Italy, killing 32 people. Both ships are operated by Costa Crociere SpA, which is owned by Florida-based Carnival Corp.
Cruise officials initially said the stranded travelers would be taken by Wednesday to Desroches, a small, exclusive coral-lined island in the Seychelles. But they changed the destination to the larger island of Mahe, citing safety and logistical reasons.
Two tug boats joined a French fishing vessel to tow the Costa Allegra, which was being escorted by the Seychelles coast guard ship Andromache and an air force plane. The liner was carrying 413 crew members and 636 passengers, including 212 Italians, 31 Britons and eight Americans. Four passengers were children ages 3 or younger.
No one was injured in Monday’s fire, but the blaze set the cruise liner adrift at sea in a region where Somali pirates prey on ships.
Company officials rushed to play down concerns.
The Costa Allegra is “being pushed by the current. It is stable and upright,” Giorgio Moretti, the director of nautical operations for Costa Crociere SpA, told reporters in a conference call late Monday from company headquarters in Genoa, Italy.
“It’s a big ship and to tow it, to move it across the waters, is a heavy task,” said Seychelles presidential spokeswoman Srdjana Janosevic. She said that all was calm on board the vessel and no one was hurt.
Italian Coast Guard officials said emergency generators were keeping the ship’s control room illuminated and communications equipment, such as radios, running. The fire disabled its non-emergency phones, so telephones were among the supplies brought in by helicopter Tuesday.
The Allegra, whose Italian name means “merry,” or “happy,” had left northern Madagascar, off Africa’s southeast coast, on Saturday and was cruising toward Port Victoria when the fire erupted. Costa said the Allegra had been due in Port Victoria on Tuesday.
The region where the cruise ship was adrift off the coast of Tanzania has seen a rash of attacks by Somali pirates. In 2009, an Italian cruise ship with 1,500 people aboard fended off a pirate attack in the Indian Ocean far off the coast of Somalia.
Moretti said an armed nine-member Italian military team on anti-pirate duty was aboard the Allegra, but he insisted the maritime region where the ship was “isn’t a high risk area for pirates.”
“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,” Janosevic said.
Moretti said 15 Costa engineers, technicians and other officials were flying to Mahe in hope of reaching the Allegra by air to repair its generators.