By Angie Teo
SANDAKAN, Malaysia (Reuters) - A stricken luxury cruise ship under Philippines and U.S. naval escort will reach a Malaysian port in Borneo island on late Sunday, Malaysian maritime officials and the ship's owner said, after spending more than a day in waters prowled by pirates.
The Azamara Quest, carrying 600 passengers who are mostly westerners and 411 crew, suffered an engine-room fire on Friday that disabled the engines and left the ship temporarily stranded off the southern Philippines coast.
The fire, the latest in a string of cruise ship accidents, was put out on Saturday although five crew members suffered from smoke inhalation with one requiring serious medical attention.
The 11-deck ship was now on its way to Sandakan port at Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo island after engineers restored the its propulsion, sailing at between three to six knots an hour, Miami-based Azamara Club Cruises said in a Facebook posting on Saturday.
"The ship is expected to reach Sandakan port by 8.00 pm (7 a.m. EDT)," a Malaysian maritime authority official told Reuters.
A U.S. Navy vessel had joined the escort flotilla comprising of several Philippine Navy ships and a coast guard ship, Filipino officials said.
The vessels will follow the cruise ship until it crosses into Malaysian waters where a Malaysian patrol ship will be on hand to escort it to Sandakan port.
The heightened security comes as the waters off the coast of southern Philippines and northern Sabah are key hunting grounds for pirates and the Abu Sayyaf, a deadly Islamic militant group.
The Abu Sayyaf wants an independent Islamic nation in the south of Roman Catholic Philippines, and have been responsible for high profile kidnappings of westerners, including abducting tourists from a nearby Malaysian resort island in 2000.
The rest of the cruise, carrying mainly Americans and Western Europeans, has been cancelled, said Azamara Club Cruises -- a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
The Azamara Quest was on a 17-night journey and had departed Hong Kong on Monday with port calls to Manila, Balikpapan (Borneo), Palapo (Sulawesi), Benoa Bali, Semarang and Komodo in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
An official from Borneo Laju, a local agent appointed by Azamara Club Cruises to repair the ship and assist the passengers, said the guests will spend the night on the ship at Sandakan and disembark on Monday.
"Engineers were able to repair one of the engines, so there was air conditioning and running water. It was not so bad," said the Borneo Laju official, who declined to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The Azamara fire was the latest in a string of cruise ship accidents.
Thirty-two people died when the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized off the western coast of Italy in January and a fire on the Costra Allegra left the ship stranded in waters patrolled by pirates in the Indian Ocean for three days in February.
Both ships were run by Costa Crociere, SpA, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise operator.
(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in MANILA, Writing by Niluksi Koswanage; Editing by Ed lane)