Passengers get off stricken liner
Passengers leave the crippled Carnival Triumph cruise ship after it was towed into the port of Mobile, Alabama, this morning. Photograph: Lyle Ratliff/Reuters
Passengers this morning began leaving Carnival Corp's crippled Triumph cruise ship after being towed to the dock in Mobile, Alabama, to end a four-day ordeal at sea.
Guests cheered from the deck as the ship arrived at 9.15pm local time last night and began to disembark about an hour later, after the cruise line's president went aboard to apologise for what had happend.
Getting all 3,100 passengers off will take as long as five hours, Terry Thornton, senior vice-president for marketing, said. The ship had no power and one functioning elevator following the February 10th engine fire off the coast of Mexico.
"It'll take us some time, but we do have a good plan in place and we do have a lot of people in place," Mr Thornton said.
Docking won't end the ordeal for the passengers, who have complained of sickness as basic functions such as sewage disposal broke down aboard the stricken liner. Guests will be bused for more than two hours to hotels in New Orleans. Chartered aircraft will fly them to Houston tomorrow, where they would again board buses for Galveston, Texas.
"The most important thing for me right now is to go onboard and apologise in person, and that's what I'm going to do," said Gerry Cahill, the chief executive of the company's Carnival Cruise Lines in a press conference after the ship arrived.
The Triumph had left Galveston on February 7th with 1,086 crew members on what was to have been a four-day voyage with a stop in Cozumel, Mexico.
No one was harmed in the fire, which is being investigated by the US Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board. Passengers were originally scheduled to return on February 11th.
The crippling of the Triumph is the second high-profile incident for a Carnival ship in a little more than a year. The company's Costa Concordia ran aground off of Italy in January 2012.
Family members waiting for passengers of the Triumph at the Alabama Cruise Terminal described unsanitary conditions and food shortages. Mary Poret (46), and Kim McKerreghan (40), of Lufkin, Texas, sent their two daughters, Rebekah (12), and Allie (10), on the cruise with their ex-husbands in a father-daughter holiday.
Both women talked to their daughters February 11th. "She was crying so hard," said Ms McKerreghan in an interview outside the terminal. "Just crying her eyes out. I couldn't talk to her at first without crying too. You don't realise how small you are until you can't do anything to help your child."
Ms McKerreghan said her ex-husband told her that they'd been asked to urinate in the shower and that when he showered, the urine backed up and splashed all over him. He and her daughter slept on mattresses in the hall, and her husband had to turn his in after urine on the floor soaked through it.
"They've been horrible," Ms Poret said of Carnival's customer service. "We'd get people on the phone and they were reading scripts. 'We're doing the best we can. Your loved ones are coming home.' It didn't matter to them what we'd ask. They'd say the same thing over and over again."
Mr Cahill, the Carnival executive, defended the crew and said they did everything they could for passengers. "I know it has been very trying for our guests," Mr Cahill said. "But I can tell you our crew worked tirelessly. I appreciate the patience of our guests and their ability to cope with the situation. I know the conditions onboard were poor and I want to apologise again to our guests."
Allen Adamson, who consults with companies on crisis management at Landor Associates in New York, said Carnival needs to go beyond the refunds and discounts that have been promised to keep customers happy. "They're going to have to have some visible sign, some very clear program, other than, 'Trust us, we're not going to do this again,'" Mr Adamson said. "The first time something like this happens, brands can bounce back well, the second time, less well. The third time it creates long-term problems."
Passengers will receive a full refund and credit toward future cruises. Those on the Triumph will receive an additional $500 in compensation.