Stricken cruise ship towed to US
Four tugboats are hauling the disabled Carnival Triumph cruise ship slowly into port in Alabama today, hopefully bringing an end to a horrific episode for more than 4,220 people who have endured days of unsanitary conditions and food shortages onboard.
The 272m (893ft) vessel, notorious for reports of raw sewage from overflowing toilets, has been without propulsion and running on emergency generator power since Sunday, when an engine room fire left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. Its operator, Carnival Cruise Lines, has said it is offering passengers an additional $500 in compensation for their hardship.
It is being hauled by tugboats to Mobile, Alabama, where it is due to arrive tonight.
Carnival Cruise Lines is the flagship brand of Miami-based Carnival Corp, the global cruise industry giant. The troubles on the Carnival Triumph occur a little more than a year after 32 people were killed when the Costa Concordia, a luxury cruise ship operated by Carnival's Costa Cruises brand, was grounded on rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio in Italy.
Carnival Corp spokesman Vance Gulliksen in Miami said the Triumph was expected to arrive in Mobile at between 8pm. and 11pm tonight (between 2am and 5am Irish time) .
"This is going to be a long day," Terry Thornton, a senior Carnival Cruise Lines vice president, told reporters at the port in Mobile.
He said the ship, which he described as "in excellent shape" after additional provisions were laid in yesterday, was near the sea buoy at the entrance to Mobile Bay late this morning. Getting from the buoy into port normally takes about three hours, Mr Thornton said.
"There is no way we could actually speed up the process to get the ship alongside sooner," he said. "We're making every effort we can to get the ship alongside here in Mobile as quickly as possible."
A Coast Guard cutter has been escorting the Triumph on its long voyage into port since Monday, and a Coast Guard helicopter ferried about 1,360 kg of equipment including a generator to the stricken ship late yesterday.
Earlier this week, some passengers who contacted relatives and media before their cellphone batteries died reported a grim situation, saying the ship was awash in raw sewage from overflowing toilets and running short on food and water.
Kim McKerreghan told television news network CNN that her husband and young daughter said in a call from aboard the ship on Monday that passengers were being forced to defecate in plastic bags due to a shortage of working toilets and that meals consisted of sandwiches with only condiments or onions.
Nick Ware, whose mother is among the Triumph passengers, told the network, "Once the meat for the burgers ran out, they were basically just eating condiment hamburgers. Just, you know, whatever condiments they could get on a bun."
He said some passengers had been instructed to use "red biohazard bags" as makeshift toilets on Monday.
The ship left Galveston, Texas, last Thursday carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew and had been due to return there on Monday.
Carnival Corp spokesman Vance Gulliksen has stopped short of denying some of the more alarming reports about conditions aboard the Triumph. But he said a technical team on board had succeeded in gradually restoring auxiliary power to operate some basic hotel functions. "Public and cabin toilets are operational in certain sections of the ship and some power in the Lido dining area is providing for hot coffee and limited hot food service," he said.
He did not elaborate on the number of working toilets for the 4,229 people but said the ship had cold running water and that three Carnival ships had met the Triumph to provide additional supplies and meals.
On Tuesday, the US National Transportation Safety Board said it had launched an investigation into the cause of the Triumph fire. But it said the Bahamas Maritime Authority was the primary investigative agency, since the ship was a Bahamian-flagged vessel.
Carnival Cruise Lines had already said passengers would receive a full credit for the cruise plus transportation expenses and a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for the Triumph voyage.
In a statement late yesterday, Carnival Cruise Lines president and chief executive Gerry Cahill said the company had decided to add further payment of $500 per person to help compensate passengers for "very challenging circumstances" aboard the ship.
"We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure," Mr Cahill said.
Mary Poret, who spoke to her 12-year-old daughter aboard the Triumph on Monday, rejected Mr Cahill's apology. "Seeing urine and faeces sloshing in the halls, sleeping on the floor, nothing to eat, people fighting over food, $500? What's the emotional cost? You can't put money on that," Ms Poret said.
Shares in Miami-based Carnival closed down 4 per cent at $37.46 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange after the company said voyage disruptions and repair costs related to the Carnival Triumph could shave as much as 10 cents per share off its second-half earnings.