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Cruise ship sinks off Penang, passengers, crew safe.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 Kyodo More than 430 passengers rescued from a Singapore cruise ship that sank in the Malacca Strait early Friday have been flown from Penang in Malaysia to Singapore, the ship's owners said Friday.

The luxury cruise ship caught fire and sank near Penang, but not before all 1,104 passengers and crew were rescued.

The 30,440-ton Sun Vista, registered in the Bahamas, left Singapore on May 16 for Phuket, Thailand, on a six-day cruise through the Strait of Malacca via Penang.

It had left Penang on Tuesday and was on its way back to Singapore when a fire broke out in the engine room while the ship was about 60 nautical miles south of Penang.

The ship's Singaporean owner, Sun Cruises Pte. Ltd., said that at about 3:15 p.m. Thursday a fire in the main switchboard in the engine room resulted in a power failure.

"The full facts and details, however, have not been ascertained and investigation is now in progress," Sun Cruises said in a statement.

Malaysian state news agency Bernama quoted Northern Region Marine Department Director Jamaluddin Yusuf as saying his department has recorded a statement from the ship's Swedish captain, Sven Bertil Hartzell, but details of the statement were not released.

There were 472 passengers and 632 crew on board at the time of the fire, including passengers from Japan, Britain, Australia, Canada, Singapore, and the United States. Most of the crew are Filipino, Indonesian and Australian.

"I just heard the captain say 'Fire, Fire' and everybody panicked. Then we ran and I don't know what actually happened," Sushma Jain, 52, from India, was quoted as saying by Malaysia's state news agency Bernama.

Thomas Bonnard, 62, a passenger from Britain, said they abandoned the ship at about 3.30 p.m.

A Maritime Department official said the burning ship was seen sinking into about 60 meters of water in the Strait of Malacca, the narrow but busy waters separating Peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia, at about 1:20 a.m. Friday.

"Some said it looked like a scene from the film Titanic," Marine Director Jamaluddin said, but he noted that unlike many aboard the real Titanic, all the passengers and crew of the Sun Vista managed to escape. Two merchant ships in the vicinity picked up almost 900 people. The rest were rescued by marine police and ferries sent by Sun Cruises. All of them were taken to Penang.

Of the more than 1,000 people on board, only 16 suffered minor injuries and were taken to a government hospital in Penang.

Sun Cruises chartered flights to Singapore to take the passengers back to Singapore from Penang.

"Passengers on this cruise will be given a full refund for the inconvenience," Sun Cruises said in a statement. It added it was canceling its other cruises, apparently pending an investigation into the sinking of the Sun Vista.

The 210-meter-long vessel had casinos, international cabaret shows, colorful bars and lounges, jacuzzis and a swimming pool among its attractions.
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Comment:Cruise ship sinks off Penang, passengers, crew safe.
Publication:Japan Transportation Scan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 24, 1999
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