Published February 16, 2013
MIAMI – The first lawsuit has been filed in the wake of the crippled Carnival Triumph cruise ship that forced thousands of passengers to spend five days in miserable conditions on the vessel after it was paralyzed by an engine-room fire.
Texas resident Cassie Terry sued Carnival Corp. on Friday in Miami federal court. The suit seeks unspecified damages, saying Terry feared for her life or that she might suffer serious injury or illness because of the presence of raw sewage and spoiled food.
Carnival cruise ship tickets require that all lawsuits be filed in Miami. Maritime attorneys say it's difficult but not impossible to win a case unless the plaintiff can show actual injury or illness.
Terry's suit, filed less than 25 hours after the ship docked in Mobile, Ala., describes the Triumph as "a floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell" and complains of "horrifying" conditions, according to a Reuters report.
Brenton Allison, Terry's attorney, told Reuters his client suffered from nausea and was running a fever while on the ship. He said Terry would decline the $500 in compensation offered by Carnival to travelers.
More lawsuits are expected from some of the 4,200 people aboard the Triumph. It was disabled Sunday by an engine fire and finally towed to shore Thursday.
Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologized at a news conference and again on the PA system as people disembarked early Friday.
"I appreciate the patience of our guests and their ability to cope with the situation. ... I know the conditions on board were very poor," he said. "We pride ourselves on providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case."
Carnival promised to give refunds, offer passengers another trip and cover their transportation costs home.
The ship left Galveston, Texas, on Feb. 7 for a four-day jaunt to Cozumel, Mexico. The fire paralyzed the ship early Sunday, leaving it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico until tugboats towed the massive 14-story vessel to Mobile. It arrived late Thursday to cheers and flashing cameras. Passengers had to wait several more hours to disembark.
Many of the more than 4,200 people aboard were bused to New Orleans to catch a flight home or to the ship's home port in Galveston. And as if they hadn't suffered enough, one of the buses broke down during the two-hour ride to New Orleans. Passengers on a different bus reported losing their luggage.
But that was nothing compared to life on the crippled cruise liner. To pass the time, Joseph Alvarez said about 45 people gathered in a public room on the lower deck for Bible study.
"It was awesome," he said. "It lifted up our souls and gave us hope that we would get back."
Because many passengers were sleeping on the outside deck, Dwayne Chapman used his pocket knife to cut decorative rope to make tents out of bed sheets. At first, other passengers told him they thought he was going to get in trouble, but later, everyone wanted to borrow his knife to do the same thing.
"I really think we've made some lifelong friends going through this ordeal," Chapman's wife, Kim, said.
Tugs pulled the ship away from the dock Friday, moving it down a waterway to a shipyard where it will be repaired. Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the damage assessment was ongoing.
The cleanup seemed daunting. Passengers described water-logged carpet, sewage seeping through the walls, overflowing toilets and a stench so bad people choked when they tried to endure it.
But by most accounts, the crew did as much as they could, using disinfectant and picking up plastic bags of feces after toilets stopped working.
David Glocker, of Jacksonville, Florida, praised the crew's efforts to help passengers and recognized the conditions for them were worse than for most passengers because their quarters were on the lowest part of the ship.
"The conditions down there were horrible. They all had to wear masks," he said. "They worked their butts off trying to get us food."
Dorsett praised a voice over the ship's public address system that she knew as "Jen."
"Jen was fabulous. I can remember her saying `Everything is brilliant!" Dorsett said. "One day, she was just talking and she said, `I know, folks, it just really sucks.' So she was even letting go. She would try to keep that happy spirit, but yet sometimes you could hear tension in her."
Six investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were in Mobile to look into the cause of the engine-room fire, which happened some 150 miles (242 kilometers) off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the agency was working with the Coast Guard and the Bahamas Maritime Authority, which will serve as the primary investigative agency.
The Bahamian government was taking the lead because the Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel, and it was in international waters at the time of the fire, Holloway said.
Passengers described a horrifying scene after the fire. Some said they smelled smoke and received conflicting instructions about every 15 minutes over the PA system. Others ran for lifeboats.
No one was hurt in the fire, and just two people were taken off the ship for medical conditions as a precaution.
Connie Ede was on the cruise with her husband. During the fire, the two got their life jackets ready and put cellphones, passports, money and credit cards in their pockets.
"All in all, I wish it hadn't happened, but it did, and we survived," she said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.