NAIROBI, Kenya — A French fishing vessel on Tuesday began towing an Italian cruise ship drifting powerless in the Indian Ocean to a nearby Seychelles island, but was not expected to reach the tiny resort island until Thursday, according to company officials.
A spokesman for Costa Crociere, the cruise company, told NBC News' Claudio Lavanga that the stricken liner carrying more than 1,000 passengers and crew members would arrive at the Seychelles' main island Mahe on Thursday.
The Costa Allegra lost power Monday after a fire in its generator room only six weeks after one of its sister ships, the Costa Concordia, hit a reef and capsized off Italy. No one was injured in the fire Monday, but the blaze set the cruise-liner adrift at sea in a region where Somali pirates prey on ships.
Company officials had previously said that they were making arrangements to evacuate people to the island of Desroches later on Tuesday and then take the passengers and crew to the main Seychelles island by plane and fast boats.
Company officials told Lavanga that the port at Desroches, a small, exclusive coral-lined island that has seen such visitors as Prince William and Kate Middletown before the two married, does not fit the safety criteria for a ship of that size.
The company said it was keeping passengers as comfortable as possible.
"Helicopters will ensure continuous supply of food, comfort items, flashlights in order to mitigate guests' discomfort given the difficult conditions on board," Costa said in a statement.
Two boats towing the Costa Allegra back to the Seychelles' main port — Port Victoria — were under escort by the coast guard and military.
Photos released by the Seychelles on Tuesday showed hundreds of people milling outside on the decks of the Costa Allegra. Taken by an Indian navy plane, the photos showed calm seas and an upright ship.Video: Another Costa cruise ship in trouble (on this page)
The Costa Allegra has 636 passengers and 413 crew members on board. The fire knocked out power to the ship's engines as well as to its lights and air conditioning.
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The power burnout came six weeks after the Costa Concordia capsized, killing 25 people and leaving seven missing and presumed dead. Both ships are operated by Costa Crociere SpA, which is owned by the Florida-based Carnival Corp.
However, company officials rushed to play down concerns.
The Costa Allegra is adrift "and being pushed by the current. It is stable and upright," Giorgio Moretti, the director of nautical operations for Costa Crociere SpA, told reporters in a conference call late Monday from company headquarters in Genoa, Italy.
"It's a big ship and to tow it, to move it across the waters, is a heavy task," said Seychelles presidential spokeswoman Srdjana Janosevic. She said that everything is calm on board the cruise ship and that no one is hurt.
Italian Coast Guard officials said emergency generators were keeping the ship's control room illuminated and communications equipment such as radios running. Officials said the cruise liner was holding steady, despite 5-foot waves in the area and passengers were being kept in the ship's big communal rooms, not in their cabins.
Moretti, a longtime Costa captain, said he expected the 636 passengers aboard would spend the night on outside decks. Among them were 212 Italian, 31 British and eight U.S. passengers, he said. Four of the passengers were children ages 3 or younger.
The Allegra, whose Italian name means "merry," or "happy," had left northern Madagascar, off Africa's southeast coast, on Saturday and was cruising toward Port Victoria when the fire erupted. Costa said the Allegra had been due in Port Victoria on Tuesday.
The general region where the cruise ship was adrift — off the coast of Tanzania — has seen a rash of attacks by Somali pirates. In 2009, an Italian cruise ship with 1,500 people aboard fended off a pirate attack in the Indian Ocean far off the coast of Somalia.
Moretti said an armed nine-member Italian military team on anti-pirate duty was aboard the Allegra, but he insisted the maritime region where the ship was now "isn't a high risk area for pirates."
"If pirates attack, the armed guards on board will respond. But as far as I am aware, no pirates have been sighted in the area," said Janosevic.
Moretti said 15 Costa engineers, technicians and other officials were flying to Mahe in hope of reaching the Allegra by air to repair its generators.
NBC News, msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.