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[UPDATED] MANILA, Philippines – A luxury ship Azamara Quest bound for Sandakan in Malaysia caught fire Saturday, March 31, leaving 5 injured. None of them were passengers.
Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Lt Commander Algier Ricafrente said the luxury ship had 590 passengers on board and 411 crew personnel. 121 of them are Filipino, according to Commodore Joseph Rustom Peña, commanding officer of the Naval Forces West (Navforwes), based in Palawan.
According to the website of Azamara Club Cruises, the 5 injured were crew members. “The five crew members onboard the ship suffered smoke inhalation during the fire. The crew members are being treated in our medical facility. However, one crew member is more seriously injured and requires additional and urgent medical attention that can only be provided in a hospital. Once the ship arrives in Sandakan, the crew member will be immediately transported to a local area hospital,” a status report as of 11:30 pm EST Friday, March 30, said.
According to the report, at approximately 8:19 p.m. ship time, fire broke out in the ship’s engine room. The fire was contained and was quickly extinguished.
The ship’s passengers are a mix of Europeans and Americans, Peña said. The 5 who were reported hurt have been assisted by the ship’s medical personnel and are now in stable condition.
Azamara Quest was spotted northeast off Mapun Island, which is near Tawi-Tawi and Sabah.
Combined elements from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) major service command in Palawan and Mindanao, and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) sent assistance as the ship had lost power and was afloat.
Philippine Coast Guard Capt Peter Eden said there was no need to evacuate the injured since the ship “is equipped with sufficient medical facilities.”
A report from the Naval Forces Western Mindanap (Navforwm), which is based in Zamboanga City, said that the fire did not cause any major damage to the ship, and that it will need “minor repair,” which crew members have the capability to handle.
Delayed call for help
Based on reports gathered by the main headquarters of the Navy in Manila, Azamara Quest caught fire when it was 45 miles northeast of Sandakan, Malaysia on Saturday morning. The Navy said the early reports made no mention of the exact time of the incident.
The cruise liner was sailing from Manila when the fire occurred.
Units under Navforwm said they were informed about Azamara Quest’s distress call before 11 am Saturday but was unsure of the exact status of the ship.
Navy spokesperson Lt Col Omar Tonsay, however, clarified the reports, saying the incident actually happened “around 10 last night (Friday, March 30)” but that the fire was eventually put under control by the ship’s crew.
It was unclear though why the ship’s call for help reached authorities only on Saturday morning.
Sea assets from the Navforwm and its counterpart in Palawan, Naval Forces-West, were deployed to respond to the distress call, as well as secure the stalled cruise liner.
These assets included 3 patrol gunboats Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) Emilio Liwanag, BRP Leogivildo Gantioque, BRP Juan Magluyan and a multi-purpose assault craft (Mpac).
The Air Force’s 3rd Air Division also conducted reconnaissance flights to locate the exact location of the distressed luxury ship.
PCG deployed a number of its vessels from Cebu, Puerto Princessa, and Zamboanga City to help in the rescue operations.
Even private fishing vessels were tapped to extend necessary assistance to Azamara Quest.
Tonsay said they are still awaiting reports from the operating units who may still be on their way back to Palawan to get a clearer picture of what transpired. They are also awaiting information about the identities of those injured in the incident.
Azamara Quest was on a 17-night sailing schedule that started in Hong Kong, China, on Monday, March 26, and had included port calls to Manila, Philippines; Sandakan (Sabah), Malaysia; Palapo (Sulawesi), Benoa (Bali), Semarang and Komodo, Indonesia. The cruise was supposed to end in Singapore on Thursday, April 12.
The damage caused by the fire however required the cancellation of the rest of the ship’s voyage. Officials of the company operating the cruise are flying to Sandakan to personally meet with their guests.
Larry Pimentel, president and chief executive officer of Azamara Club Cruises, is set to arrive in Malaysia Monday morning, April 2. – Rappler.com