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Fire cruise passengers hail captain

Passengers of a fire-damaged luxury cruise ship have lauded the captain and crew for maintaining order and bringing them safely ashore in Malaysia after 24 hours adrift off the Philippines.

The Azamara Quest was stranded off the southern Philippines with 1,000 people aboard after flames engulfed one of its engine rooms on Friday, injuring five crew members.

It restored propulsion the next night and reached the harbour of Sandakan city in Malaysia's eastern state of Sabah on Borneo island late on Sunday.

More than two hours after the ship docked, buses took passengers - many smiling, despite looking tired - to hotels at around midnight. Malaysian police and consular officials from countries including the US, Britain and Canada were also present.

The fire, which was immediately extinguished, knocked out air conditioning on the ship. Passenger Diane Becker Krasnick of St Thomas, US Virgin Islands, said conditions were very hot. "It was unfortunate, but the crew was totally, utterly amazing, taking care of us, making sure we were safe, pulling double duty, made sure that we got everything that we needed," said Mrs Krasnick, who was celebrating her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband, Mark.

Videos and photographs shot by Mrs Krasnick showed passengers wearing life vests on Friday night at the ship's cabaret lounge, which, along with a casino, were turned into gathering areas for roll calls.

Some passengers said the incident initially made them think other luxury cruise accidents this year. But they stressed the situation was nowhere as bad as what happened to the Costa Concordia, which capsized off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people in January.

"The captain was phenomenal," Dorothy Irvine, a retired school principal from Toronto, said in Sandakan.

Five crew members suffered smoke inhalation. A Sandakan hospital staff member said a Guatemalan man was being treated, but could not give other details.

The 11-deck vessel, which features a casino, spa and shopping boutiques, was carrying 590 passengers and 411 crew members. Over one-third, or 201, of the passengers were American, according to lists of passenger and crew nationalities provided by the ship captain to the Philippine coast guard. The passengers from 25 countries also included 98 from Britain, 89 from Australia, 45 from Canada, 39 from Germany, 32 from Austria, 16 from Belgium, 14 from New Zealand and 14 from Switzerland.

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