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Passengers praise response to cruise ship fire

This item was written by Fran Golden, a cruise expert and Trip Coach for Budget Travel magazine. Golden is serving as Guest Editor of The Cruise Log while USA TODAY Cruise Editor Gene Sloan is away.

Passengers from the Azamara Quest are safely in luxury Malaysian hotels today, recalling the frightening experience of being stranded at sea after their cruise ship caught fire Friday.

The 17-day Southeast Asia cruise had embarked from Hong Kong for Singapore.

READ MORE:  Fire-stricken cruise ship safe at Malaysian port

Following a port call in Manila, for 24 hours the Quest, with 1,000 passengers and crew on board, drifted off the southern coast of the Philippines after flames knocked out one of the ship’s engines. Five crew members suffered from smoke inhalation, one was seriously injured.

Passengers were briefly mustered, reminding some of the deadly Costa Concordia crash off the coast of Italy in January, in which 32 people perished; as well as the blaze on the 1,000-passenger Costa Allegra that left that ship adrift in the Indian Ocean in February.

READ MORE:  Fire-damaged cruise ship Costa Allegra will not return

Enough power was eventually restored for the Quest to sail at a speed of three to six knots to port in Sandakan, Malaysia, where the vessel arrived late Sunday. Most passengers took buses to hotels, but a few decided to remain on the ship.

Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, flew to Sandakan to meet with passengers and crew today.

In press interviews, passengers had praise for the crew.

“It was unfortunate, but the crew was totally, utterly amazing, taking care of us, making sure we were safe, pulling double duty,” Diane Becker Krasnick of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, told the AP. “I would still highly recommend the Azamara.”

As the ship made its way to Malaysia, the 590 passengers, including 201 Americans, were served barbecue on deck and free drinks. Electricity, running water and plumbing were restored within hours of the fire, though air conditioning remained off.

“People didn’t complain. The captain was phenomenal,” said Dorothy Irvine, a former school principal from Toronto.

Passengers said they were told the fire was electrical in nature. Gan Ping Sin, Sandakan’s marine police commander, said he was informed the ship might be sent to Singapore for repair, according to AP.

The cruise line has chartered a plane to ferry passengers to Singapore tomorrow.

In a letter from the Quest’s captain, obtained by USA TODAY, passengers were offered a variety of compensation packages including continuing their vacation until April 12 in a luxury hotel in Singapore or another Asian city of their choice, with Azamara picking up hotel expenses and providing $150 per passenger, per day to cover meals and incidentals. Azamara also is giving passengers a full refund, a certificate for a future cruise worth 100% of the cruise fare paid and reimbursement for airfare.

“I would like to commend the crew onboard Azamara Quest, not just for their valiant and courageous efforts during the fire, but for the way they have worked tirelessly to make our guests as happy and comfortable as possible until the ship arrived in port,” said Pimentel in a prepared statement. “The entire crew has been absolutely brilliant, and I couldn’t be prouder of the exemplary way each and every one of them responded to this incident.”

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