* Helicopters airlifting fresh bread, torches to liner
* Efforts to attach a tug to help tow failed
* Cruise ship due in Mahe early Thursday
* Some passengers to fly home shortly after, rest to stay in Seychelles
By George Thande
VICTORIA, Feb 29 (Reuters) - Passengers endured a third day without power and hot food on a stricken Costa cruise ship in the sweltering Indian Ocean on Wednesday, as helicopters airlifted fresh bread to the liner under tow.
The Costa Allegra, which is owned by the company whose giant liner smashed into rocks off Italy last month, suffered an engine-room fire which knocked out the ship’s main power supply on Monday, disabling the engines in waters prowled by pirates.
Costa Cruises said the liner was due to arrive at the Seychelles capital of Victoria around 9:00 a.m.(0500 GMT) on Thursday.
The company said some of the passengers had asked to be flown home, while a larger number said they planned to continue their vacation on the island.
Seychelles officials said the passengers would be attended to by a team of doctors and offered their first hot meal in days. Those who wanted to leave would be flown home.
“I have a team of doctors, nurses and paramedics who will meet and attend to the passengers’ possible medical needs,” said Kenneth Henriette, the island’s chief medical officer.
“They will be taken to three hotels where they will have a hot meal, and take a shower before being taken to the airport, where there are three aircraft waiting to take them home.”
The Trevignon, a French deep sea trawler, is pulling the Costa Allegra along at a speed of six knots.
“Efforts were made to add a tug (to help tow) but it didn’t work,” George Adeline, the commander of the Seychelles’ coastguard, told Reuters. A military aircraft is also flying in support of the operation.
A team from Costa Cruises, a unit of the U.S. cruise line giant Carnival Corp., boarded the Costa Allegra on Wednesday to make arrangements for hotel accommodation and onward flights for the 636 passengers and 413 crew once they make land on Seychelles main island, Mahe.
More than 600 airline seats and 400 rooms had been reserved, the cruise company said.
Costa Cruises said 376 passengers out of 627 had accepted its offer to continue their holiday in the Seychelles at the firm’s expense.
The holiday-makers would be flown home at the company’s expense at the end of their holiday, Costa Cruises said.
“The other 251 passengers have decided to return home with flights organised by Costa Cruises from Mahe on the evening of Thursday March 1,” the company said in a statement.
The cruise line said it would try to charter flights to passengers’ home countries, but the plans were not yet finalised.
A small generator had been transferred onto the crippled vessel, but was only powerful enough to run its auxiliary communication system, not the air conditioning or cooking systems, Adeline said.
“The ship crew is doing everything possible to make the situation on board more comfortable trying to restore basic services on board,” Costa Cruises said on Tuesday.
With no lights working onboard, the company said it had dropped hundreds of torches onto the ship to help at night.
“The speed of the ship, despite the hot and humid climate, creates a slight breeze that helps making the situation more comfortable.”
The passengers, including four children, are from 25 different nations, with the largest contingents being 127 from France and 126 from Italy. There are also 38 Germans, 31 Britons, 13 Canadians and eight Americans on board.
The Costa Allegra left Diego Suarez in Madagascar on Saturday and, sailing northeast, had been due to dock in Mahe on Tuesday.
The Costa Allegra, at 29,000 tonnes, is several times smaller than the huge Costa Concordia which capsized off the Italian island of Giglio, killing at least 25 people.