More than 1,000 people were last night waiting to evacuate a Costa Cruises liner floating adrift in the Indian Ocean after a fire destroyed the vessel's power supplies – only a month after its sister ship, the Concordia, ran aground off Italy, with the loss of 32 lives.
Initial reports suggested none of the passengers aboard the 188m-long Italian-registered Costa Allegra were injured. The coastguard said the vessel's officials reported that all 636 passengers and 413 crew aboard were "in good health" and the fire extinguished. Approximately 30 Britons were believed to be on the ship.
However, they were not yet entirely out of danger as the stricken vessel drifted powerless about 200 nautical miles from the Seychelles' main archipelago, an area with a high risk of piracy.
The first rescue vessel was not expected to reach the liner until 11pm UK time, more than 13 hours after a fire raced through the ship's engine room.
The Italian coastguard said that "for precautionary reasons, passengers were assembled at lifeboat collection points", as the stricken vessel drifted. There was a blackout on board with the batteries used only for essential on-board equipment. The fire broke out 20 miles from the remote Alphonse Island.
Italian coastguard commander Cosimo Nicastro said he had been told by the ship's captain that "the passengers are fine" and the "fire danger was over".
Italy's consul for the Seychelles, Claudio Izzi, told the Ansa news agency: "There are no safety concerns for passengers on the Costa Allegra at sea off the Seychelles."
He said the ship, built in 1992, had departed from Mauritius en route to the Seychelles where it should have arrived this morning.
Costa Cruises confirmed that the authorities were working "to provide the necessary support to the ship, depending on how the situation evolved". It said tug boats and other support vessels were on their way to help the vessel.
The incident is another PR disaster for the company that is still reeling from last month's disaster off the coast of Italy.
On 13 January its 290m-long Costa Concordia struck rocks and partially capsized by the island of Giglio, off the Tuscan coast, with the deaths of 32 people, some of whose bodies have yet to be recovered.
Last week it emerged that Italian prosecutors had placed three senior Costa executives, including marine operations director Roberto Ferrarini and vice-president Manfred Ursprunger under investigation on suspicion of having been "culpably unaware of the real situation on board the ship" and of failing to verify the information provided by the ship's captain Francesco Schettino, after he tore a 50m-gash in the side of the huge liner.
Mr Schettino, is already under house arrest suspected of multiple manslaughter and of abandoning ship before his passengers.
The company is facing a huge legal bill from multiple lawsuits related to the incident.
Just over a year ago, the United States coastguard criticised fire-safety standards on the Splendor passenger liner, owned by Costa's US parent company Carnival Cruises, after an engine room fire on 8 November 2010 left the vessel stranded offshore with 4,500 passengers and crew.
It had to be towed into a Mexican port with the help of the US Navy.
Other Carnival liners including the Ecstasy, Celebration and Tropicale have also suffered serious fires.