Some 4,000 people aboard a crippled cruise ship some have likened to a floating toilet were hoping to reach dry land and an end to their hellish voyage by tomorrow afternoon.
The Carnival Triumph disabled Feb. 10 when an engine room fire left it adrift off the coast of Mexico was being towed by tugboats toward a berth in Mobile, Ala. by Thursday. Passengers and crew have described a nightmarish scene of overflowing toilets, spoiled food and filthy hot conditions aboard the 893–foot vessel.
Kim McKerreghan, whose 12-year-old daughter is aboard the boat with her father, said she spoke to the distraught girl by phone and learned of the vile conditions.
“Please mama come get me, I want to go home,” McKerreghan recounted her daughter pleading. “To hear your daughter’s gut wrenching cry and know you can’t co help her made me feel helpless.”
McKerreghan said her ex-husband told her raw sewage was seeping up through showers drains and passengers had only onion sandwiches to eat.
McKerreghan and Mary Poret, whose daughter Allie, also 12, is aboard the ship, said her daughter was miserable.
“She was very, very scared,” Poret said. “She was afraid that she would never get to see me again. It was very hard to convince her that it was going to be okay.”
Carnival Cruise Lines said Wednesday all guests on board will receive a full refund for the cruise, as well as a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for the trip and an additional $500.
McKerreghan and Poret said they doubted their daughters could be coaxed into sailing again anytime soon.
"No one here from Carnival is happy about the conditions onboard the ship," Carnival President Gerry Cahill said Tuesday. "We obviously are very, very sorry about what is taking place."
There are 3,143 guests and 1,086 crew on board the ship. Cahill claimed the ship has running water and most of its 23 public restrooms and some of the guest cabin bathrooms were working, though that did not jibe with accounts from passengers. They have described a horrific scene, with raw sewage dripping down walls and slick corridors.
Passengers' stay in Alabama will be limited, Carnival said in a statement late Wednesday. The company said passengers were being given the option of boarding buses directly to Galveston, Texas, or Houston, or spending the night in a hotel in New Orleans, where the company said it booked 1,500 rooms. Those staying in New Orleans will be flown Friday to Houston. Carnival said it will cover all the transportation costs.
Mobile Mayor Sam Jones said late Wednesday that the city has more than enough hotel rooms to accommodate passengers and its two airports are near the cruise terminal.
"We raised the issue that it would be a lot easier to take a five-minute bus ride than a two-hour bus ride" to New Orleans, Jones said, adding that he did not know the company's reasoning. Jones said Carnival employees will be staying in Mobile.
Once docked, the ship will be idle through April. Two other cruises were called off shortly after Sunday's fire.
Carnival Cruise Lines said Wednesday it is canceling another 12 voyages for the disabled ship which were to take place from Feb. 21 through April 13.
Jimmy Mowlam, 63, whose 37-year-old son, Rob Mowlam, got married Saturday onboard the ship, said his son told him by phone Monday night that there is no running water and few working toilets. He said passengers were given plastic bags to "use for their business."
Despite a forecast of brisker winds and slightly higher seas, the Coast Guard and Carnival said they did not expect conditions to deteriorate aboard ship.
Carnival hasn't determined what caused the fire, Oliva said. The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday it has opened an investigation into the cause.
The ship had mechanical problems last month that delayed its departure from Galveston on a previous voyage. Debbi Smedley, a passenger aboard that cruise, said it was scheduled to leave at midday on Jan. 28 but did not sail until after 8 p.m. Passengers received an email from Carnival Cruise Lines telling them the delay was due to a propulsion problem.
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said there had been electrical trouble with the ship's alternator, which was repaired. He said there does not appear to be any link between that issue and the fire.
Mowlam said his son told him the lack of ventilation on the Triumph's current voyage had made it too hot to sleep inside and that many passengers had set up camp on the ocean liner's decks and in its common areas.
"He said up on deck it looks like a shanty town, with sheets, almost like tents, mattresses, anything else they can pull to sleep on," said Mowlam.
Mowlam said his son indicated that passengers are trying to make the best of a bad situation.
"So far people have been pretty much taking it in stride," Mowlam said his son told him.
Rob Mowlam told his father the ship's crew had started giving free alcohol to passengers.
"He was concerned about what that was going to lead to when people start drinking too much," Mowlam said.
Jay Herring, a former senior officer for Carnival Cruise Lines, said one of the biggest concerns crew members will have until the ship docks is the potential for disease outbreak, particularly norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea.
"Housekeeping, others are probably working double shifts to keep the mess clean and wipe down and sanitize all the common areas," said Herring, who worked for Carnival from 2002 to 2004 and spent four months on the Triumph.
The ship was originally going to be towed to a port in Progreso, Mexico, but after currents pushed it northward, the company decided to take it to Alabama, saying it would make it easier for passengers without passports to get home.
A similar situation occurred on a Carnival cruise ship in November 2010. That vessel, named Splendor, was stranded with 4,500 people aboard after a fire in the engine room. When the passengers disembarked in San Diego, they described a nightmarish three days in the Pacific with limited food, power and bathroom access.
Cahill said the Spendor's fire was different because it involved a "catastrophic explosion" in a diesel generator, and the Triumph's fire had "some other cause." He could not say what the economic impact will be due to the fire aboard the Triumph. The impact from the Splendor was $40 million, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.