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An aging cruise ship could become temporary housing for Hurricane Ike refugees if Texas officials can navigate through the federal government's paperwork.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said they had not received a formal request for funds to use the ship and that a state agency's e-mail to a FEMA administrator did not follow protocol for making such a request.

Simon Chabel, a spokesman in FEMA's joint field office in Austin, said the request must go through the state's department of emergency management and be made on a specific form.

"This process exists so we can ensure that the state is speaking with one voice when they asked us for things," Chabel said.

The 1950s-era Regal Empress, with up to 1,200 available beds, left port in Galveston on Thursday and dropped anchor about 10 miles offshore, said Jim Bourke, the ship's agent. A port official said the ship had to leave to make room for others arriving this weekend.

The crew will wait until Monday to find out if the ship's next destination is Port Orange, about 100 miles up the Texas coast, or the Bahamas, where it would resume round-trip cruises to Florida in December, Bourke said.


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