Costa Allegra: Row erupts over towing stricken vessel

A row has erupted between the Seychelles government and the owners of the Costa Allegra, as the stricken cruise liner is being towed to land.

A Seychelles minister said the French fishing boat towing the vessel had refused to give way to faster tug boats because of financial interests.

A Costa spokesman said the liner was not using the tugs because the fishing boat "guaranteed the smoothest voyage".

The ship lost power on Monday, running adrift with more than 1,000 passengers.

The Allegra was now expected to reach the port of Victoria in the Seychelles on Thursday, the Italian owners of the vessel said.

Planes lined up

Seychelles Home Affairs Minister Joel Morgan told the Associated Press news agency that the cruise liner would have reached land on Wednesday if the fishing vessel had let faster tugs boats take over.

"The Seychelles authorities are not happy about this situation and we would have wished to get the ship into port as soon as possible in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the passengers," Mr Morgan said.

He suggested that the financial objectives of the French fishing boat were put ahead of the interest of the passengers, who were left without electricity, air conditioning and toilet facilities.

The owners of the fishing boat are reportedly being paid for assisting the Allegra.

However, Davide Barbano of Costa Crociere, the company that owns the Allegra, countered Mr Morgan's claims, saying that "it was decided to continue with that (the fishing vessel) because it guaranteed the smoothest voyage for those on board''.

Meanwhile, planes are being lined up in the Seychelles to fly home passengers from the vessel as soon as possible.

Accommodation is also being arranged, but with hotels already busy, most are expected to fly straight to Italy.

Local residents are also being asked to make their homes available.

The ship was left adrift after a fire in the generator room.

It is from the same fleet as the Costa Concordia, which capsized off the Italian coast in January, killing 32.

'Sincerely sorry'

As the Costa Allegra has no air conditioning or cooking facilities, a helicopter is continuing to fly in fresh food.

Most of the passengers are staying on deck where there is a cooling breeze in the hot weather.

The company said in a statement on Tuesday that it was working with the local authorities "to ensure the best possible assistance to all our guests and make their discomfort as short as possible and to reach their next destination.

"The company is sincerely sorry for the inconvenience: absolute priority is to make it as short as possible."

Of the 636 passengers and 413 crew on board, 135 are Italians and 127 French, along with nearly 100 Austrians, 90 Swiss and 31 Britons.

Earlier the company had planned to tow the ship to a much smaller island closer to its current position.

This was abandoned because the facilities there were inadequate to cope with such a large ship.

The company says it is liaising with passengers' families via their emergency contact numbers. Contact has been made with the relatives of all the crew.

Families in the UK can call the company's emergency line on 020 7940 3300.

Distress signal

The ship is at the southern end of the seas that are vulnerable to attacks by Somali pirates.

But a government spokesman told the BBC that attacks in the area had decreased in the past year as security improved.

The ship sailed with nine armed guards on board, and more are stationed on the French fishing vessel. Pirates in the area have never seized a cruise ship.

A government plane is also patrolling overhead.

The ship sent out a distress signal when the fire broke out, and all passengers and crew not involved in fighting the fire assembled at the muster stations.

Most electric lights on board the ship are off as the batteries are being used to keep essential machinery going.

The company says the Allegra received its regularly scheduled maintenance in dry dock in October 2011.

The Costa Concordia ran aground off the Italian island of Giglio on 13 January.

The Concordia captain, Francesco Schettino, has been accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all those aboard were evacuated. He denies any wrongdoing

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