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PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines -- (UPDATE 4 - 3:31 p.m.) At least five passengers were injured when a fire struck a cruise ship off Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park between Palawan and Panay islands, authorities said Saturday.
The Philippine Coast Guard and Naval Forces West have dispatched several vessels to assist the Azamara Quest, which was reported to have 600 passengers, mostly Americans and Europeans, and a crew of 121 Filipinos.
Benito Ramos, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, and Eugene Cabrera, chief of the Office of Civil Defense for the Mimaropa region, said the Coast Guard received an emergency call from the ship around 7 a.m.
Cabrera described the fire as "minor."
The 30,000-gross ton, 181-meter long vessel was sailing rom Manila to Indonesia.
"Our information is that the fire is under control but the ship needs to evacuate five injured passengers," Navforwwest’s Commander Joseph Rostum Pena said.
A travel alert posted on the website of cruise operator Azamara Club Cruises clarified that the injuries were to five crew members who suffered smoke inhalation, one of them "more seriously."
The 570th Composite Air Wing also scrambled an aircraft to track down the vessel, which had reported it position at 45 nautical miles northeast of Mapun Island. Cabrera said the Coast Guard in Palawan plotted the ship at 140 miles from Sandakan, Malaysia.
Among the vessels on the way to the ship are PS31 and two vessels of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources from Zamboanga City, PG118 from Tawi-Tawi, Mpac from Jolo, and PG392 from Palawan.
Ramos and said the Coast Guard has also dispatched the BRP Edsa and BRP Romblon.
Cabrera said the ship's operators have also chartered a Malaysian tugboat to tow the vessel in case efforts to restore propulsion fail.
Pena said they also alerted the YL Fishing Company, which had a vessel plotted in the vicinity of the distressed ship, to help with the rescue efforts.
In its travel alert, Azamara Club Cruises said the fire broke out onboard the Azamara Quest around 8:19 p.m. Friday ship time and was quickly extinguished.
“There were no injuries of guests reported and the atmosphere aboard is calm,” the company claimed.
“The ship is still located 200 miles off the coast of Balikpapan, (Borneo), Indonesia, in calm seas,” the company said, adding engineers had restored power to one of the engines, restoring air conditioning, running water, plumbing and refrigeration, but that “the ship does not have propulsion capabilities at this time.”
The Azamara Quest was on a 17-night sailing that departed Hong Kong Monday, March 26, with scheduled port calls to Manila, Balikpapan (Borneo), Palapo (Sulawesi), Benoa Bali, Semarang and Komodo, Indonesia and ending in Singapore on Thursday, April 12, it said.