More than 1,000 passengers and crew will spend up to another night aboard the stricken cruise ship the Costa Allegra as it is towed slowly to port by a French tuna-fishing vessel.
Attempts to land the luxury liner at the nearest island of Desroches in the Seychelles had to be abandoned last night after it emerged that it was too dangerous to disembark at the tiny dock.
Helicopters delivered fresh food, satellite phones and torches to passengers forced to camp out on deck in the sweltering heat. Those on board – including more than 30 Britons – have been coping with deteriorating conditions since a fire broke out in the engine room on Monday, knocking out electricity supplies and leaving the ship without power.
The vessel is under the command of Captain Nicolo Alba, 48, in only his second voyage as skipper. Among those on board is British dancer Rebecca Thomas, whose brother James survived the capsize of the Costa Concordia.
Her mother, Jayne Thomas, said she had had no contact with her daughter since learning about the fire. "I thought it was a one-off and we wouldn't be going through this experience again," she said.
Costa Cruises, which also owns the Concordia, which foundered off the coast of Italy last month with the loss of 32 lives, said there was no danger despite concerns the Indian Ocean waters it is sailing in are vulnerable to pirate attack. The vessel is being protected by nine armed members of an anti-piracy unit of the Italian navy, the company said.
The Seychellois authorities are facing the mounting logistical problem of finding enough accommodation for the influx of passengers and crew when they arrive in the former British colony's main island of Mahé, more than 200 miles away, by tomorrow morning.
It is one of the busiest times of the year in the Seychelles, with many hotels full of tourists. The 188m Allegra is being towed at the end of a 400m cable by the French fishing vessel the Trévignon at a stately six knots an hour. Two tug boats and two coastguard vessels were also joining the rescue effort, while a military aircraft had been dispatched.
"Helicopters will ensure continuous supply of food, comfort items, flashlights in order to mitigate guests' discomfort," Costa Cruises spokesman Davide Barbano said. "The company is sincerely sorry for the inconvenience; absolute priority is to make it as short as possible," he added.
Air conditioning has stopped working on the ship and temperatures are 35C even outside on deck. Conditions in the cabins are said to be intolerable.
Codacons, the Italian consumer group organising class actions against Costa Cruises in relation to the Concordia disaster, said it would now be seeking damages for Allegra passengers.