Crippled cruiser passengers’ three day rescue ordeal
Published 28/02/2012 | 16:21
COSTA Cruises, the Italian company that owns the ship, announced that instead of being disembarked at Desroches island in the south-west of the Seychelles, the vessel will be towed all the way to Mahe, the main island, more than 200 miles away.
Trying to disembark the passengers, including 31 Britons, into small boats and then transport them across a reef to the shore of the tiny island was too risky, the company said in a statement.
The island, which has just one luxury £1,000-a-night resort with 24 rooms and 24 beach villas, would have been swamped by the influx of 1,050 passengers and crew.
Prince William and his then girlfriend, Kate Middleton, spent a week on the island in 2007, a holiday that the Prince later reportedly said was "the best" he had ever had.
"Costa Cruises informs that in view of extensive and accurate checks carried out with local maritime experts' support, in order to ensure the safety of our guests on board, the disembarkation on Desroches island cannot be performed and therefore it has been decided that the ship will be towed to Mahe.
"The disembarkation in Desroches does not assure the necessary and adequate security conditions for mooring the ship and guests' disembarkation. In addition, logistics and hotels on the island are not enough."
The Costa Allegra was being towed towards Desroches by a 300ft-long French fishing trawler that was sent to its aid overnight. Two tugs are on their way from the Seychelles and will also assist as it changes course.
The ship is expected to arrive in the Seychelles capital, Victoria, on the main island of Mahe, on Thursday morning.
Costa Cruises said it would endeavour to minimise passengers' discomfort.
"Helicopters will ensure a continuous supply of food, comfort items and torches in order to mitigate guests' discomfort given the difficult conditions on board," the company said from its headquarters in Genoa.
"The Company is sincerely sorry for the inconvenience: absolute priority is to make it as short as possible."
Under the original plan, passengers would have been disembarked on Desroches and then flown to Mahe. But it would have been a lengthy and expensive process, because only planes with a capacity of 20 people can land on the island's short airstrip.
Several of the Costa Cruises officials who are dealing with the Costa Allegra crisis are under investigation for their role in the Costa Concordia disaster off the Italian island of Giglio six weeks ago, in which at least 25 people died.
They include Roberto Ferrarini, from the company's crisis management unit, Paolo Parodi, the fleet superintendent, and Manfred Ursprunger, the vice president of the Genoa-based cruise company.
Mr Ferrarini was in contact with Capt Francesco Schettino, the commander of the Costa Concordia, when it ran aground and capsized on the night of Jan 13.
A total of eight of the ship's officers and company officials are under investigation by prosecutors in Tuscany.
The first pretrial hearing in the case, which will include discussion of the ship's "black box" recorders, will be held on Saturday in Grosseto, Tuscany, where the investigation is based.
Prosecutors accuse Costa's crisis unit of being "culpably unaware of the real situation on board the ship" and of falling to verify properly the information provided to it by Capt Schettino.
Investigators say that the unit limited itself to "bureaucratic aspects ... and to the future prospects of repairing the ship," according to prosecution documents released last week.
They accuse the officials of failing to promptly inform the Italian maritime authorities about the scale of the disaster.