Victoria: Emergency medical teams were on standby as an Italian liner with over 1,000 passengers and crew limped towards port in the Seychelles on Thursday, three days after a fire disabled it in pirate-infested waters.
   
Passengers have spent most of the time crowded on the Costa Allegra's decks fighting sweltering temperatures since an engine fire knocked out power on Monday, cutting electricity, air conditioning and shutting bathrooms.
   
"We're here to provide water and psychological support because the passengers have been in a very stressful condition in the dark," said Red Cross worker Sandra Sabury, with the ship sighted off the coast and approaching the port.
   
"The weakest passengers will be disembarked first, there will be ambulances standing by, but we were prepared to airlift anyone who needed urgent medical attention," said Seychelles presidential spokeswoman, Nada Francourt.
   
Italian investigators also awaited the arrival of the liner, a converted container ship which belongs to the same fleet as the doomed Costa Concordia that smashed into rocks off Tuscany last month.
   
The fire broke out near the ship's generators in the engine room as the Costa Allegra was making its way from Madagascar, which it departed on Saturday, to Seychelles, where it had been due to arrive on Tuesday.
   
Emergency crews on board extinguished the fire after a few hours and no-one was injured, but the liner was left powerless and adrift.
   
A French tuna fishing boat, the Trevignon, responded to the Costa Allegra's mayday call and was towing the boat solo, crawling along at a speed of around six knots through calm seas.
   
Conditions have been "difficult," the French captain of the Trevignon Alain Derveute said, describing the heat as "suffocating."
   
Emergency supplies and electric torches were airlifted by helicopter onto the boat, and with washing facilities closed, the liner's operating company Costa Crociere provided mineral water "for personal hygiene needs."
   
Coast guard vessels and naval aircraft from both Seychelles and India patrolled nearby during its slow journey to port to ensure safety from pirates.
   
The Costa Allegra is owned by the same company as the much larger Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the Italian island of Giglio and keeled over last month with 4,229 people on board in an accident that claimed 32 lives.
   
Nine people are under investigation for the disaster, including three Costa Crociere executives, the ship's captain and five other crew members.

(Agencies)