More than 1,000 passengers and crew on the Costa Allegra luxury cruise ship prepared to sleep on the outside decks for the third night in a row, as the sun set over the waters of the Indian Ocean and the crippled vessel made its way slowly toward the Seychelles' main island of Mahe.
The ship is expected to arrive at Mahe at 9 a.m. Thursday local time. It was reported that the ship was moving at 6 knots but the Seychelles government said high winds and choppy waters were making the journey slow going. The weather is reportedly warm and humid with cloudy skies.
In addition to the French fishing vessel pulling the ship and the two tugboats that arrived Tuesday to push, a Seychelles Coast Guard boat is accompanying the Allegra as it hobbles to the Mahe harbor.
Seychelles government minister Joel Morgan blasted Alain Derveute, the captain of the French boat Trevignon, today for refusing to allow the tugboats to take over the towing effort. He said the move had cost the ship 10 to 12 hours more on the sea and that the Allegra likely would have docked on Mahe Wednesday night.
But Jim Perry, a maritime lawyer in Miami, said that the Trevignon was within its rights under the Salvage Convention, SALCON 89, which states that a person who helps another on the high seas is entitled to a salvage fee. Perry said that if the fishing vessel had let the tugboats take over, Derveute and his crew would have lost leverage in claiming a reward.
It was not known whether the Trevignon and Costa Cruise Lines had negotiated a towing fee.
The cruise liner, which has been adrift since it lost power Monday because of a fire in its engine room, is off the coast of Desroches but cannot dock there because the small island does not meet the necessary security conditions.
The Trevignon's Derveute called the situation "an exceptional occurrence."
"Nothing similar has ever happened to me," he told the Italian TV channel TGCOM 24 by telephone. "The weather conditions are good but navigation is tiring. Two of us are alternating at the helm because we have stopped the automatic pilot for security reasons."
Ship Out of Pirate Danger
Although there were early fears of a pirate attack because the ship was in open waters off the coast of Somalia, the Allegra is now in Seychelles waters and no longer in danger.
Eight members of the Costa Cruise Line "Care Team" flew from Mahe to Desroches and then took a private company boat to the Allegra to help manage the ship and help passengers make plans. The company said Tuesday that a "Care Team" of 14 executives, managers and technicians had reached Mahe to prepare for the ship's arrival.
Helicopters have delivered flashlights, medicine, ice, fresh produce, bread and communication devices to the ship's occupants and the Seychelles government flew its immigration officers to the Allegra to clear the 636 passengers and 413 crew of customs before their disembarkation.
A small generator was also brought by a Navy ship and was reportedly being used by the ship's crew to "restore basic services on board."
A statement by the company released Tuesday said that despite the heat and humidity, "a slight breeze" was making the situation more comfortable.
Although there will be three charter planes standing by Thursday on Mahe to take passengers and crew to Italy, where Costa Cruises is headquartered, 400 hotel rooms were secured to accommodate those who prefer to stay for Seychelles' International Carnival of Victoria this weekend.
Guests were invited to prepare their luggage in order to be ready for the time of disembarkation, the company said.
Jayne Thomas of England, whose daughter is a performer on the crippled Allegra, said she was happy that the situation appeared to be under control.
"I'm not worried now," she told the BBC Tuesday. "I know that the ship's under tow. ... They obviously are not taking any passengers any further than the island so that's good news for me. It means I'll get my daughter home."
The company issued a statement early in the week saying that the guests onboard the ship, which left Madagascar Saturday, were being kept continuously informed and assisted by the captain and the onboard staff and that a cold breakfast had been served this morning.