Engine fire sets Spanish cruise goers adrift

Spanish passengers on board the stricken cruise ship Zenith have spoken of their overnight ordeal "in pyjamas" while waiting to be towed ashore following a fire in the ship's engine room.

Engine fire sets Spanish cruise goers adrift
The Zenith (picture above) was left adrift off Venice after a fire in the engine room damaged its propulsion system. Photo: Pullmantur

Some 1,672 passengers and 600 crew members were left adrift in the Adriatic Sea when a fire immobilized the 21-year-old Pullmantour cruise ship on Tuesday as it sailed between Ravenna and Venice, Italy.

Many of the vessel's passengers were Spanish, although their were also people from Argentina, Brazil and Italy on board, a company spokesperson told The Local.

Josep Cortiella, one of the Spanish passengers on board, told Catalan TV news channel 3/24 that they had gone to the ship's bridge "in pyjamas" and stayed there until 8am.

The passengers had nothing to eat, he explained, except some sandwiches.

Cortellia claimed that the ship's authorities "didn't know what to do," but diplomatic sources praised the speed and efficiency of Italian relief forces and the co-ordination of the departments involved in the rescue, according to Catalan daily El Periodico.

The fire in the ship's engine room left its propulsion system inoperative, causing it to drift to a halt about 16 miles offshore.

It was quickly extinguished and no-one was hurt in the incident.

The liner was eventually towed by tugboats to Marghera where 40 coaches had been provided to take passengers to Venice airport.

Six Pullmantour Air flights were arranged to fly Spanish passengers back home.

The company announced on Wednesday morning that all passengers were now back in Spain.

Gonzalo Chico Barbier, Chairman and CEO of Pullmantur Group, who met the passengers in Marghera said in a statement: "We deeply regret the unexpected interruption of the holidays of our passengers."

He added: "The safety of our passengers and crew is always our top priority, which is why we have called upon all of the resources at our disposal, chartering six planes and 40 buses, and swiftly facilitating the return home of each of our passengers."

The company also confirmed that it would begin to arrange full refunds plus expenses for every passenger on board the Zenith.

They will also offer all passengers a 25 percent discount on a future cruise.

"The Zenith is now being looked at by technicians," a spokesperson from the company told The Local.

"We don't yet know how long the ship will be out action."

The Pullmantour spokesperson said that the vessel's 600 staff were now in Venice. She praised their hard work in helping passengers during the ordeal.

This is not the first time that a fire has broken out on the Zenith. There was another incident in 2009 when the cruise ship was docked in Stockholm.

The German-built Zenith has another claim to fame: it was the setting for an essay by the US writer David Foster Wallace titled A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

In the essay, Foster Wallace describes a seven-night vacation aboard the ship, a trip which he said turned him into a spoiled brat.

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