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‘Things became very primitive’ on cruise ship

Stricken by fire, vessel docks after ordeal off Africa

Gregorio Borgia/associated press

Passengers searched for luggage at Seychellas Island yesterday. They were to be flown to Paris, Rome, Milan, Vienna, or Zurich,

VICTORIA, Seychelles - The worst moments for Gordon and Eleanor Bradwell came immediately after the alarm sounded. Eleanor rushed to their cabin to get a life vest. Gordon was pushed in another direction. The scent of smoke grew stronger aboard the disabled cruise ship. Then the lifeboats dropped.

The Athens, Ga., couple - married 50 years last June - could not find one another.

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“Those were the worst moments,’’ said Bradwell, a former alumni director at the University of Georgia.

The Costa Allegra docked in the Seychelles yesterday, three days after a fire broke out in the ship’s generator room, leaving passengers without working toilets, running water, or air conditioning in a region of the Indian Ocean where pirates are known to prowl.

Cabin temperatures reached 100 to 110 degrees, forcing passengers to sleep on deck chairs.

“Things became very primitive,’’ Bradwell said, a far cry from what the couple had expected when they embarked on the $8,000 multi-week cruise.

The blaze came just six weeks after another luxury liner, the Costa Concordia, capsized off Italy, leaving 32 people dead, a fact that was on many passengers’ minds. Both ships were operated by Costa Crociere SpA, which is owned by Florida-based Carnival Corp.

When the ship’s alarm sounded around 1 p.m. Monday, passengers knew it was not a drill. They had already had one, and knew that the short-short-long wail meant to prepare to disembark.

Passengers could not see the fire, but they could smell and see smoke.

Crewmembers extinguished the blaze within an hour, but the alarmed continued to wail for two more hours.

Some passengers panicked, shouting out family members’ names. It was two hours before the Bradwells were reunited.

Captain Niccolo Alba said yesterday that the emergency response went relatively smoothly.

The average age of the 627 passengers on board was 55, said Guillaume Albert, head of Creole Travel Service.

Many of the older passengers had trouble with the sweltering heat.

Back in Georgia, the Bradwells’ daughter, Karen Bradwell Cobb, received two calls Monday from the cruise operator to update her on the ship’s situation.

“Initially when I got the call it was very stressful and I teared up,’’ she said. “But because my parents are such seasoned travelers I felt like they would be OK. The main concern for me and my brothers was the piracy issue.’’

The waters off East Africa are Somali pirate territory. Their attacks crippled the Seychelles tourism industry after wary cruise companies stopped coming to the island paradise in 2009.

Cruises have returned, and Costa Vice President Norbert Stiekema said yesterday that antipiracy measures were in place on the Allegra, though he would not detail what they were. A Seychelles official said earlier that armed guards were on board.

Cobb said the cruise company called with an update again on Tuesday. Yesterday, at around 2 a.m. Georgia time, she received a fourth call.

“Hey!’’ her father joyfully shouted into a reporter’s phone. “We wanted to let you know that everything is OK.’’

After the first hours of chaos, life settled down on the Allegra. But more bad news was to come. An emergency generator not involved in the fire failed, leaving the ship with only six hours of battery power.

That brought an end to any semblance of the good cruise life. There were no more hot meals, only cold sandwiches. The water used to extinguish the fire flooded the galley between the first and second decks.

The toilets could not be flushed, blanketing the bathrooms in stench.

Stiekema, the Costa vice president, said the company had made the passengers an “extremely fair’’ compensation offer: A refund of the costs of the cruise, any related flights and any spending on board, plus an additional payment equal to the cost of the cruise and associated travel expenses.

Passengers were also given the chance to remain in the Seychelles for a free one- or two-week vacation, which the company said about 70 percent of guests had chosen to do. All passengers were to be flown home at company expense.

Guests not staying in the Seychelles were to be flown to Paris, Rome, Milan, Vienna, or Zurich, arriving this morning. Those passengers will also receive a voucher equivalent to the value of the Allegra trip, to be used on any Costa ship in the next 24 months.

“Costa is sincerely sorry for the discomfort caused to its passengers, but happy to have found them in good conditions,’’ a company statement said.

After the Concordia’s accident, the company saw bookings fall by 35 percent. They had just started to rise and may now take another hit.

The Bradwells, for instance, said they were looking forward to their next cruise - but that it will not be with Costa.

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