PAPEETE, Tahiti (Reuters) - Passengers plucked from a blazing luxury cruise liner in the Pacific Ocean arrived in Tahiti Monday to wait for their journey home.
None of the 127 passengers, mostly Americans, were hurt in Sunday's fire that broke out on board the vessel Wind Song near isle of Bora Bora in French Polynesia.
Local government officials say the blaze appeared to be accidental and flatly ruled out a terror attack.
The Wind Song, still carrying the passenger's luggage, was due to be towed to Tahiti's capital Papeete Monday. The tourists are expected to start leaving the island Tuesday.
The Wind Song is owned by Windstar Cruises, a U.S. company specialising in exclusive, exotic cruises. Windstar said the fire began in the engine room and its cause was not immediately known.
Apart from U.S. citizens, the Wind Song's passengers included 19 Canadians, as well as Mexicans, Argentines and two French nationals, said officials at a crisis center on the Pacific archipelago.
A passenger ferry, the Aremiti, rushed to the scene to help with the initial evacuation after the captain raised the alarm. The tourists were then flown to Papeete.
Most of the 92-member crew, including Indonesians and Filipinos, were also evacuated. Over a dozen crew members stayed on board to try to contain the fire until the arrival of fire-fighters on French navy vessels from Papeete.
Eyewitnesses said Monday that external damage to the liner appeared limited. Crisis center officials said Sunday that the motorized liner, which has four masts with sails, was badly damaged but there was little risk of it sinking.
Windstar Cruises said the passengers, who began their cruise Friday, would be refunded and offered a free trip in future.
Local Tourism Minister Brigitte Vanizette said the fire was purely accidental and took pains to quash any speculation about an attack after suspected Islamic militants struck tourist targets in Bali, Indonesia and Mombasa, Kenya.
Israel says the al Qaeda network is the prime suspect in the bom
The Wind Song was withdrawn from service, as the damage from the fire (which began inthe engine room and did not injure any passengers or crew) was too severe for economical repair and return to service.
Wind Song and all Windstar ships meet all SOLAS standards, and that probably prevented any tragedy from occurring. MSY Wind Spirit, a sister ship to Wind Song, has been repositioned from the Caribbean (and this summer, the Mediterranean,) to French Polynesia, where it has taken over Wind Song's scheduled cruises.
IMO, this is an excellent way to see French Polynesia, an otherwise very pricey destination (lodging and food are sky-high). If anything, the large motorsailing yacht experience and extensive waterpsorts offerings from Wind Spirit enhances the experience (and as a diver, I use the SCUBA offerings avidly).
I was also onboard and I did receive a refund, an offer for a complimentary cruise in the future plus Windstar picked up the stay in Tahiti for the week. It was unfortunate that I didn't feel comfortable enough to go on another Windstar cruise until 12 years later! The comp cruise was available for one year but we're looking forward to sailing on the WindSurf and hopefully will be sailing Tahiti in 2015.